Filipinos, long known as a tolerant people, seem to be running out of patience with the extravagant life-styles of their leaders.
President Ferdinand Marcos, his wife, Imelda, and their friends and associates known as "the cronies" have been accused repeatedly of lavish spending, conspicuous consumption and monumental waste during two decades in power.
A series of financial scandals of late has renewed the attack.
The latest reports by American newspapers of massive private investments in the United States have raised an unexpected public outcry, with opposition calls for Marcos' resignation and demands for an independent investigation.
Even before the outcry this month, there were signs that the threshold of tolerance for profligate spending was being reached. A $27 billion foreign debt has imposed severe austerity measures, and as much as 70 percent of the population lives below the poverty line. Displaced workers in the slumping sugar industry face widespread malnutrition.
Much of the criticism has revolved around Imelda Marcos, 56, who goes by the title of "First Lady" and is constantly referred to in newspaper headlines here as "FL."
In one of the more sarcastic commentaries about her lately, a picketer protesting the overseas investments held up a placard reading: "Imelda -- the fierce lady. The original material girl," a reference to a hit song by Madonna.
IN MAY, Imelda Marcos aroused considerable public indignation when she proclaimed herself the "godmother" of newly appointed Philippine Cardinal Ricardo Vidal and led 85 nuns and priests, plus a private retinue of 38, on a pilgrimage to Rome for Vidal's investiture.
With great fanfare, Imelda Marcos and her party boarded a commercial Philippine Airlines flight to Dhahran, Saudi Arabia. There, Manila newspapers reported later, they quietly took a special Boeing 747 to fly to Rome in style. Once in the Italian capital, she had a 20-piece orchestra and a dance troupe flown in to give private performances during a lunch and dinner, insiders said.
Imelda Marcos' foreign travels long have been popular with those accompanying her, especially flight crews, to whom she has doled out thousands of dollars in tips, said a former member of her entourage. "Besides," he added, "you can smuggle anything you want."
For the priests and nuns who went on Imelda Marcos' pilgrimage, "the great temptation . . . was to get a 'free ride' to that Mecca of all Roman Catholics, the eternal city of Rome," wrote columnist Max Soliven. "The trouble is, the Filipino taxpayers will be eternally paying for that trip."
IMELDA MARCOS returned just in time to orchestrate last month's independence day festivities, marked by the first major military parade in the capital since the 1950s.
But even that backfired when, the day before the June 12 celebrations, an unannounced dress rehearsal organized by Imelda Marcos clogged major city arteries with tanks and troops, snarling traffic for hours and provoking a barrage of public complaints.
Opposition leaders gathered at a weekly coffee-shop meeting in a luxury hotel nearly panicked at the prospect that the show of force was a military coup, and a fuming Prime Minister Cesar Virata had to get out of his car and walk to his office.
IT TOOK publication in the American press of charges of massive overseas investments to crank up what opposition commentators proclaimed as the most serious financial scandal to hit the Marcos administration. According to an investigation by a Knight-Ridder team, prominent Filipinos including the Marcoses, their friends and government officials have siphoned tens of millions of dollars from this cash-poor country to the United States, often through mysterious holding companies.
After two weeks of silence, President Marcos last week asked his justice minister, Estelito Mendoza, to investigate the allegations of "unexplained wealth" leveled against public and private figures and to "spare no one." Mendoza sent letters to 10 government officials and businessmen and the owners of a private firm asking them whether they owned the properties cited in the news reports and, if so, to explain the acquisitions.
The recipients included Defense Minister Juan Ponce Enrile, Energy Minister Geronimo Velasco, Ambassadors Eduardo Cojuangco Jr. and Roberto Benedicto, Philippine Airlines President Roman Cruz Jr., businessmen Antonio Floirendo, Herminio Disini, Rodolfo Cuenca and Jose Campos and the owners of Ayala International Corp.
Cojuangco, Benedicto and Floirendo, who are known here as cronies of the president, are big in the coconut, sugar and banana industries.
Conspicuously absent from the list were the Marcoses themselves, who had figured most prominently in the allegations.
Concerned that the investigation would be squelched, 14 national business, legal and church associations published a full-page newspaper advertisement calling for a "full and public investigation of these reported overseas investments through an independent panel" and not an "alter ego of the president."
The issue also spawned a new opposition group in this country, where the first order of business for any fledgling organization seems to be to choose a snappy acronym. So it is that protest groups such as ROAR (Run On for Aquino and Resignation, a joggers' movement), WOMB (a women's group), MAD and ATOM have burst onto the scene. The new group is called the Anti-Cronyism Movement, and for short -- it had to happen -- "Acronym."
Imelda Marcos brushes aside charges of indulging in frivolity and opulence. "People say I'm extravagant because I want to be surrounded by beauty," she was quoted as telling the San Francisco Examiner. "But tell me, who wants to be surrounded by garbage?"