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Chasing Aimee
By Kap Maceda Aguila
People Asia Magazine 11/25/2006

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So she's a Marcos, but Aimee insists she's more than that. Today, Aimee has found her calling - channeling goodness through the arts. Her company Princess Bato stands for who she is - a warrior for women and the arts.

The laugh is the first thing that strikes you - a hearty guffaw that might as well have come from a big man. Until, of course, you see the young lady. She is under the weather tonight, voice hoarse and nose sniffling.

Yet the circumstances don't seem to dampen her spirit. She is loquacious and self-deprecating in humor. The PEOPLE Asia team chooses ensembles for her and she is game about trying anything.

"Except yellow. I don't wear yellow," she declares, and flashes a meaningful grin.

When I am introduced to her, she smiles and quickly says, "Please be nice, okay?"

Maybe it would be best to start at the end of the interview, when she says she wants to be just like anybody. Just like anybody. Sounds simple enough. But maybe not if you're Aimee Romualdez Marcos.

Yes, she's that Aimee many would surely remember as the young girl who had Malacaņang for a playground. The Aimee who had free rein to intrude at any meeting to be with her father, President Ferdinand Marcos. And yes, she admits to being spoiled "equally" by both the President and mom Imelda.

"Bunso eh [I was the youngest child], what can you do? The whole childhood experience I didn't miss out on so much even with the surreal surroundings. During Christmas, there were so many gifts, and Santa Claus still existed. The Three Kings always came in. This was never overlooked. It was a production!" Aimee shares.

Although Aimee fondly remembers the Marcos heyday at the palace, she firmly says she doesn't long for that period anymore.

"That entire time is part of history. As a Filipino, I am proud to be part of that history. However way you want to interpret that is fine with me. I totally respect that. But I would never go back to those times again just because I see how different, strong and beautiful the people are now. If that didn't happen, we wouldn't be learning from it now. Why go back to something that's already been done?"

But the truth of the matter is that, to many Filipinos, the Marcoses and the government of those days left an indelible mark in their lives - a reason why the populace is still largely polarized in their opinion of them. The road to impartiality about the former strongman and his family is clearly a long one. It's either you love them or you hate them.

The young Marcos acknowledges this, and says that everyone is entitled to his opinion.

"No hard feelings," she insists. "It's been 20 years. If that's the way they want to see it, I totally respect that. But at the same time, don't disrespect me and say all these horrible things because, at the end of the day, they're my family."

Yes, family. To Aimee, Ferdinand Marcos was not the president; Imelda was not First Lady. "You have to understand that Imelda Marcos was the mom that would tuck me in at night. My dad was the one who would put a towel on my forehead if I had a fever. My kuya [older brother] helped me learn how to ride my bike. It's family."

And in a real way, Aimee's youth saved her from the swirling, duplicitous world of politics. Malacaņang was neither a bastion of power nor a symbol of affluence; it was simply home. It was here she opened her eyes to a life of privilege, pomp, and parties - a life of royalty that came to an abrupt end in 1986 with the EDSA Revolution.

"No comment," she says, when initially asked about the revolt that ended in exile for the Marcoses. A little prodding, and she relents.

"It evokes fear... absolute fear. I get really scared, because that is how I remember feeling at that time."

That primal fear is all that she recalls from those days. On the US cargo plane the family hastily rode to Honolulu, it was so oppressively hot that Aimee passed out.

Oddly, the Marcos sojourn in Hawaii was when the family - well, at least for Aimee - had a taste of normalcy. The relatively blissful existence was only interrupted by the numerous visiting lawyers and loyalists the Marcoses entertained. As for Aimee, she had the luxury at last of being an average child who sought to melt in the background. She, for instance, remembers climbing trees and falling from them, much to the chagrin of her mom.

"It was more normal there because I did not realize so much the importance of my family in this country's history," she shares. "On the upside, because life was normal, I think it worked to my advantage. I don't think I'm easily swept off by stuff. I try and keep a pretty even keel about things."

Yet Aimee did feel disconnected from the country she loved. "I shared in the grief because I did not know where I came from. It was sad," she recalls.

It was only when the Marcoses were allowed to return did Aimee realize the extent of the Marcos celebrity. "When we came home in '92, everyone was like 'They're all back!' I was like, what are we, aliens?" She laments.

"The name is a responsibility. Whatever happens, I am proud to be part of the family. Everyone from my mom to Borgy. Not everyone knows that we're tight. It took me a while to understand the whole hoopla behind being who I am. But then I realized that it's a responsibility that is part of my identity. I can't shy away from it. I'm not about to go preaching to other people because that was not my time. I'm a Marcos who lives in the 21st century. I'm not in the '80s anymore and I'm hoping that people will take on a different perspective now."

At 28, Aimee is no longer the kid in wonderland. She wants to be known as her own woman. A woman who just happens to have the Marcos appendage to her name.

Again, that's easier said than done.

Still, Aimee's all too willing to work for it. She has taken on regular jobs. Presently, she's a communications and content supervisor for a job and services website. Aside from that, she dabbles in civic work via the SEC-registered Princess Bato - named after Aimee's high school band in Poveda (she plays the drums, by the way).

"Our tagline is 'Charities through the arts.' Basically, we are trying to uplift the charities that are already there because we figured that we couldn't reinvent the wheel. We might as well support them," she explains.

The support is in the form of sweat more than money. "We all have day jobs. The age range of our volunteers is from 21 to 30 years old, so we're fairly young. And we put on concerts or events that we want to go to for a cause that we want to support. That's how we raise funds. We try to kill two birds with one stone. We try and help charities out and we try and make people aware of all of these great talents that we have in terms of visual arts, film, music... everything.

"Everything in the Philippines! Biased ako eh. Pinoy ako, eh [I am biased because I am Pinoy]. I like our arts. I think we have the best artists in Asia. I think it's time that the underground should be mainstream."

If this sounds eerily familiar, then look no further than Aimee's mom - who, through the years, has made herself known as patron of the arts and things beautiful.

But Aimee jests: "I favor the arts because I'm horrible at math!"

Aimee followed her heart's calling with Princess Bato, and expanded it via Princess Batugan - an events and arts management affair that maintains a stable of hardrocking bands.

In December, Princess Bato will be teaming up with like-minded visionaries specifically young designers - to stage a benefit fashion show that will feature alternative takes on the terno to make them street-ready. Each featured designer has chosen a Pinoy band to provide the music for their part in the show.

"Being Pinoy has become a little rebellious, a little against the grain. Now it's becoming popular. That's my little theory. So, the outfits that will be made are going to be auctioned off. And we are going to use the proceeds to buy books for Bantay Bata's Children's Village because their library is really sparse. And one thing that my parents really ingrained in us is that you read to learn. We're also in partnership with Yabang Pinoy. Everything about the event will be Pinoy, including the food. Put the pride back, so to speak."

Aimee has seemingly found her place in the world through civic work, although she is still deeply entrenched in society's A-list that her family has always been a part of. Come to think of it, that's probably a way she can rally troops to her cause.

Aimee and her associates have also been partners for a year now with the International Museum of Women. "It's an online, ongoing exhibition and I was asked to be one of the representatives of the Philippines. There are 117 countries involved. It's online, You'll see us there, Sigaw ni Maria Clara, and we're trying to make it an annual thing for Women's Month. Our beneficiary last year was the Correctional Institute for Women in Mandaluyong. I love them. They're my friends! This coming year, we are still trying to choose who it will be but the correctional facilities will always have a special place in my heart."

At one of her sorties, one of the Ilocano inmates approached her and asked for some bagnet (a local meat specialty), Aimee recalls with a smile. "Well. I haven't been back to Ilocos so I owe her that still."

Aimee sheepishly admits that she can't speak Ilocano, but she does understand a bit. "But if you go fast, I can't. Nakakahiya [It's embarrassing]!" She laughs.

As for her band: it's called the Dorques, and they dish out some mean rock with a poppy edge. I ask her if her mom has ever seen them play.

"Nope. I have invited her but she's a busy lady. Plus it's usually late at night when we get to play so I just ask her to get some rest instead."

Squeezing the most out of every day seems to be the norm for the dynamo that Aimee is. "The word of my life is 'schedule.' I need to schedule stuff. By Monday, I try to more or less plot out the rest of the week. Weekends are really sacred for me. You can't get me to go out unless there's a really good reason."

If she does get enough time, Aimee would want to take cello lessons - an instrument that sister Irene used to play when they both lived in San Francisco. "She played it very, very well. So, ever since, I have always wanted to take it up because it looked so cool. We were young so she used to play Winnie the Pooh songs," she recalls.

To live a privileged, comfortable life is an immense blessing. Aimee Marcos is not one to forget that, and it seems her struggle at normalcy is a way to sort of deserve that proverbial silver spoon.

"I was blessed enough to have the background that I have. And in my personal opinion, if nobody uses that privileged background for anything better than self-promotion, I think it's a waste of time. I'm sorry, I'm going to be very blunt about it. Sincerely, I know where I come from. My God, I won the lottery; I really did: But the thing is, parang wala akong natutunan [it's like I didn't learn anything] with all these things that I was blessed enough to experience if I don't use what I know to help make things a little better - even through just putting up a concert for one guy who had a whole week of s--t and just worked his tail off for his family."

To those who still haven't noticed or figured it out, Aimee has come out of her shell. She no longer is the tot in the palace.

What next? Well, Aimee is not exactly closing doors, but for now, showbiz and politics are domains she'd rather not go to.

"I would never say never but I really can't see myself in politics in the near future. At the same time, I totally respect my sister and my brother being in it, I totally support them and I think that they are doing a great job, I don't know kung ganon ako katapang or katigas [if I'm that brave or tough]. I don't know if I'm as eloquent as they are. But then who really knows? I can't really say.

"My entire family is very supportive of what I do," she says. "They realize that I'm not Baby Aimee anymore. They do know me well enough to know that I'm doing what I love and they support me for it. And just for that I'm happy. They make me happy. Even if you make mistakes, which are inevitable along the way, they taught me that I have to go through that and that they will support me no matter what. At the end of the day, it's just not I hurt anybody and do it well - the best that you can.

"I figured out through the years that there has been an obsessive need to be normal. It's like, what is normal? What I'm trying to do is to be the best that I can be and earn my way at the same time. I know I just can't get it because of my last name. If you look at my parents' history, my dad came from the province; both of them came from the province and they worked their way up. Mommy was a beauty queen. She was beautiful that's why she got a break. My dad went though elections before he actually became the guy that he was. And I'm only their kid. I'm not them. May pride ako sa ginawa nila [I have pride for what they did] but I know that a Marcos is more than that. It's Aimee in front of the Marcos.

"Personally, I believe that if you didn't go through all the work, when you get the rewards, it's not that satisfying, not as fulfilling. Matalisod ka ng konti para masaya [You should stumble a little so that it's fun]."

And she adds, with no trace of apology: "I'm weird."

But there is nothing weird in wanting to forge your own path, away from what you are expected to tread. Aimee Marcos even shirks from being questioned about the kind of legacy she wants to leave.

"I'm not here to leave a legacy behind. If there's anything I want to be remembered by, it's for my laugh," she chuckles. "I do things not because I want to leave a legacy. What I do is something I expect to be continued when I die. If by chance someone in 2075 will look at what I did and will use it to spark something, kahit maliit lang [even if it's small], like opening up a cafe so that poets and dancers can have a stage for one night, every week. That's fine."

Aimee wears a red tee with her mom's image emblazoned on it. "Ang ganda niya no [she's beautiful, isn't she]?" she says, and proudly models it as the camera shutter snaps away at the stairwell of the I Love You Store on Makati Avenue.

Perhaps among all her siblings, Aimee is the most blissfully free from the history of the Philippines' most controversial family. It shows, too, on her joie de vivre and enthusiasm with which she approaches her mission for meaning.

The future is wide open, as far as Aimee Romualdez Marcos goes.

Just like with anybody.
She was an innocent kid 20 years ago. Her childhood was a privileged one and I think it's time for her to give as much as she could back to the society. It's good she is into charities now but the public perceptions will take time to be erased.
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