MANILA, Philippines (AP) — Termites, storms and neglect have damaged part of former Philippine first lady Imelda Marcos' legendary collection of shoes and other possessions left behind after she and her dictator husband were driven into U.S. exile by a 1986 popular revolt.
Hundreds of pieces of late strongman Ferdinand Marcos' clothing, including the formal native see-through barong shirts he wore during his two-decade rule, have also begun to gather mold and fray after being stored for years without protection at the presidential palace and later at Manila's National Museum, officials told The Associated Press on Sunday.
The Marcoses fled the Philippines at the climax of an army-backed "people power" revolt which became a harbinger of change in authoritarian regimes worldwide. Ferdinand Marcos died in exile in Hawaii in 1989 and his widow and children returned home years later.
They left staggering amounts of personal belongings, clothes and art objects at the palace, including at least 1,220 pairs of Imelda Marcos' shoes.
More than 150 cartons of clothes, dress accessories and shoes of the Marcoses were transferred to the National Museum for safekeeping two years ago after termites, humidity and mold threatened the apparel at the riverside palace. They deteriorated further at the museum after the fragile boxes were abandoned in a padlocked hall that had no facilities to protect such relics and was inundated by tropical rains last month due to a gushing leak in the ceiling, museum officials said.
Museum staffers, who were not aware the boxes contained precious mementoes from the Marcoses, opened the hall on the fourth floor of the building after noticing water pouring out below the door. They were shocked to see Marcos' shoes and gowns when they opened the wet boxes, officials said.
Workers hurriedly moved the boxes to a dry room and some were later brought to a museum laboratory, where a small team of curators scrambled to assess the extent of the damage, a process that may take months given the huge volume of the apparel. Some items have been damaged by termites and mold beyond repair, according to museum curator Orlando Abinion, who is heading the effort.
"We're doing a conservation rescue," Abinion told the AP. "There was termite infestation and mold in past years, and these were aggravated by last month's storm."
"It's unfortunate because Imelda may have worn some of these clothes in major official events and as such have an important place in our history," he said.
AP journalists saw a badly tattered box at the museum filled with damaged and soiled leather bags and designer shoes belonging to Imelda Marcos. Termites had damaged the heel and sole of a white Pierre Cardin shoe. Other shoes were warped out of shape or badly stained.
About 100 of Ferdinand Marcos' barong shirts were squeezed tightly into another box, some still attached to plastic hangers. A white barong shirt on top, with the presidential seal emblazoned on its pocket, had reddish stains and a sleeve was nearly torn off.
Imelda Marcos, now a member of the House of Representatives, was not available for comment Sunday.
Her massive shoe collection, including top U.S. and European brands, astounded the world and became a symbol of excess in the Southeast Asian nation, where many still walked barefoot out of abject poverty.
Ferdinand Marcos' successor, democracy icon Corazon Aquino, accused him of stealing billions of dollars during his 20-year rule and ordered many of his assets seized.
The clothes and shoes of the Marcoses were not among the assets allegedly stolen by them and sequestered by the government following the dictator's fall, according to Presidential Commission on Good Government official Maita Gonzaga. The government has so far recovered $2.24 billion worth of cash, bank accounts and prime real estate from the Marcoses and their cronies, she said.
After the 1986 revolt, Aquino had Imelda Marcos' shoes displayed at the presidential palace as a symbol of the former first lady's lavish lifestyle. The shoes were then removed from public view and stored in the palace basement when Aquino stepped down in 1992.
Mrs. Marcos once claimed most of her foreign-branded shoes were fake, though that has never been independently verified. But the world's fascination with her footwear, including a battery-operated pair that blinked when she danced, has ensured a hefty price tag. A 1990 U.S. charity auction of one pair donated by her fetched $10,000.
Imelda Marcos claimed many of the shoes were gifts from Filipino shoemakers in suburban Marikina city, the country's shoemaking capital. Marikina officials borrowed 800 pairs of her shoes in 2001 for a shoe museum, which has become a tourist spot.
Unapologetic about the past, Mrs. Marcos said her shoes became her best defense.
"They went into my closets looking for skeletons, but thank God, all they found were shoes, beautiful shoes," she told reporters when she inaugurated the shoe museum.
Massive flooding, however, damaged dozens of pairs of Marcos' shoes in Marikina in 2009.
About 765 pairs, including famous brands like Gucci, Charles Jourdan, Christian Dior, Ferragamo, Chanel and Prada, survived the Marikina floods. The shoes, size 8 1/2 to 9, still look remarkably new due to meticulous museum care, which includes displaying them in airtight and dust-free glass cabinets in an air-conditioned gallery, away from direct sunlight. The shoe collection draws a daily crowd of 50 to 100 Philippine and foreign tourists, who almost always leave in awe, museum manager Jane Ballesteros said.
"The first word they utter is 'Wow,' followed by the question, 'Was she able to wear all of these?'" Ballesteros said. "When I say, yes, look at the scratches on the soles, the next reaction is, 'Really?'"
"It's amusing," Ballesteros said. "Her shoes never fail to astound people years after."