Imelda Marcos, the politically powerful wife of Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos, described opposition presidential candidate Corazon Aquino today as an "ambitious" and "obsessed" politician waging a life-or-death ideological struggle and behaving as the "complete opposite" of a Filipino woman.
"Women have their place somehow -- at home," Imelda Marcos said. She described the widow of assassinated opposition leader Benigno S. Aquino Jr. as a "housekeeper" who was out of her depth in seeking the presidency but who had become power-hungry after being thrust forward for the job by powerful backers.
In an interview with three American correspondents, Imelda Marcos contrasted what she said was her own love of beauty and God with Aquino's "terrifying" campaign for the presidency. She said Aquino, in an alliance with communists, would bring about "a society that is godless, . . . a society of hate and of vengeance."
The remarks appeared to reflect a new tack in the Marcoses' drive to remain in the Malacanang presidential palace they have occupied for 20 years. In recent campaign appearances for an election set for Feb. 7, President Marcos has sought to portray Aquino's sex as a handicap and to compare her unfavorably with "model" Filipino women.
So far, such remarks appear to have been greeted with more amusement than outrage in this traditional, Latin-style society in which feminism has yet to make strong inroads. But opposition politicians suggest that this could change as the campaign continues.
In a speech on the outskirts of the capital Monday, Marcos said that unlike Aquino, model women in the Philippines should confine their preachings to "inside the bedroom." Marcos suggested that his opponent, the Philippines' first woman presidential candidate, was misbehaving by "challenging the men" and said the presidency was no place for a woman.
Following up on this theme in an after-dinner interview tonight in the luxurious Champagne Room restaurant of the Manila Hotel, Imelda Marcos, who serves as minister of human settlements in her husband's Cabinet and as governor of metropolitan Manila, said that "actually, power here is always the man."
She denied that she is "antifeminist" but said she saw Aquino as "a complete opposite of what a woman would be, in our context. That is why this is kind of shocking."
Imelda Marcos continued: "Beauty is love made real, and the spirit of love is God. And the state of beauty, love and God is happiness. A transcendent state of beauty, love and God is peace. Peace and love is a state of beauty, love and God. Peace and happiness is a state of beauty, love and God. One is an active state of happiness, and the other is a transcendent state. That's peace. This is what we women have to bring about."
Playing down her own role and reputed ambitions in Philippine politics, Imelda Marcos said, "Being governor of Manila is housekeeping. But when you start interacting with your neighbors and the world, that's a different story."
Asked if she thought running this nation of 54 million people was beyond what a woman should do, Imelda Marcos said: "For a housekeeper." She was apparently referring to Aquino's oft-quoted description of herself as "an ordinary housewife."
By contrast with Aquino, Imelda Marcos said, "I stick around to being a housekeeper. I keep the house in order here." She said that while she was often sent on "errands" to foreign countries by her husband, she was acting only as a "messenger."
Imelda Marcos said she had rejected a draft backed by a petition with 2 million signatures to run for vice president on her husband's ticket in next month's elections. The presidency is an "overwhelming responsibility" because this is "a country so strategically positioned that it can spell the difference between the free world and the communists," she said. "So I felt the country deserves only the best." She said these were Marcos and his vice presidential candidate, Arturo Tolentino, 75.
Imelda Marcos said she was reminded of the song "Ghostbusters," because "there's something beyond logic" at work in Aquino's campaign. Asked whose ghost she was talking about, she hesitated, then said, "What else? The communist ghost. We need a ghostbuster, a communist buster."
Pressed further on the suggestion that Aquino's assassinated husband represents a "ghost" in the campaign, Imelda Marcos said, "You know, the thing is it's kind of a convenient, hysterical ghost, an emotion that is very convenient for the communists to use. It's very classic."
In an apparent dismissal of Aquino's reputation as a devout Roman Catholic, she added: "All this prayer thing, this is packaging."
Imelda Marcos said that while her husband had been called "a tyrant," he was "really a man of peace, a humanist and an enlightened leader" who, she said, used constitutional provisions such as martial law rather than violence. She referred to Marcos' declaration of martial law from 1972 to 1981, a period in which he changed the constitution to allow a president to run for reelection indefinitely.
Imelda Marcos gave a vague reply when asked about allegations that she, her family and presidential friends maintained "hidden wealth" abroad, and she denied that her husband is in poor health.
The U.S. courts and Congress have "evidence and documents to say that we have this," she said regarding the allegations that the Marcoses maintain properties in the United States. "It is open, and Mr. Solarz has gotten into this." She referred to Rep. Stephen J. Solarz (D-N.Y.), whose House subcommittee is holding hearings on the hidden wealth issue.
"Anyway, I think the thing . . . is a little too much," Imelda Marcos said. "The things that have been done to this country are not to be believed. What we have to go through and what we have to take from our allies and friends."
Regarding the president's health, she said Marcos "just recovered last year" from an illness she would not disclose but "is completely recovered and he is not sick of anything incurable."