Discovery of Malaysian first lady’s luxury handbags reminds world of Imelda

May 21, 2018 - 6:29 PM
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Former Philippine first lady and congresswoman Imelda Marcos receives flowers from supporters during her 85th birthday celebration, in Laoag, Ilocos Norte in northern Philippines, July 2, 2014. REUTERS/Erik De Castro

Reports from Malaysia on the alleged corruption of unseated former Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak has also shed light on his wife Rosmah Mansor’s lavish lifestyle.

The revelation that the former first lady had a handbag collection worth millions of dollars has reminded Filipinos of another former first lady with expensive tastes: Imelda Marcos.

Since his defeat in the last Malaysian elections, Najib has been the subject of numerous investigations on alleged corruption during his administration. He and his wife Rosmah have criticized the police raids on their property.

The most startling discovery so far has been the 284 boxes of designer handbags along with 72 bags of cash, jewelry and watches yielded from a raid at an upscale condominium owned by the couple.

One media outlet has listed the wide array of designer bags found among the former first couple’s belongings, which include brands such as Gucci and Versace.

While a valuation of the entirety of the discovered collection has not been computed, there are reports saying that Rosmah’s Hermes Birkin bag collection alone is already worth US$10 million.

Another former first lady

Filipinos have taken note of Rosmah’s collection, thanks to a New York Times article on the investigation into the former Malaysian prime minister’s wealth that compared Rosmah to Imelda Marcos, widow of the the late Ferdinand Marcos.

But citizens from across Southeast Asia have also started to compare the luxury enjoyed by the two former first ladies. The prevailing sentiment is that Rosmah trumps Marcos by a mile.

The former first lady’s collection is estimated to have reached the thousands. Following the Marcos family’s ouster, a good chunk of the footwear has been preserved and placed in a museum.

Marcos has claimed that her affinity for shoes came from a desire to support the shoe industry based in Marikina.

In 2011, the city of Marikina offered to restore a chunk of Marcos’ shoe collection, which had been destroyed by flooding during the onslaught of Typhoon Ondoy in 2009.

Not from the same side of the coin

Despite the public’s comparison of their wealth, Marcos and Rosmah have very different backgrounds.

The former Imelda Romualdez married Ferdinand Marcos after a whirlwind courtship. According to biographer Carmen Navarro-Pedrosa, she worked as a sales lady who also participated in beauty pageants and had to live with a wealthier relative when she first moved to Manila.

She has been the representative of the second district of Ilocos Norte since 2010.

Marcos has also publicly supported the political campaigns of her children, including Ferdinand Jr., or “Bongbong,” who lost in the 2016 vice-presidential race after a stint in the senate. She has expressed her desire to see Bongbong one day ascend to the presidency.

Malaysia’s Prime Minister Najib Razak of Barisan Nasional (National Front) and his wife Rosmah Mansor show their ink-stained fingers after voting in Malaysia’s general election in Pekan, Pahang, Malaysia, May 9, 2018. (Reuters/Athit Perawongmetha, file)

Rosmah, Najib’s second wife, on the one hand had a background in education and business. She received a degree in Sociology and Anthropology from the University of Malaya and later a Master’s degree in Sociology and Agriculture Extension from the Louisiana State University before working for various corporation and organizations.

Azrene Ahmad, Rosmah’s daughter from a previous marriage, has spoken out against her mother and stepfather, applauding the end of the regime.

In a Facebook post that has gone viral in Malaysia, she claimed her mother was emotionally abusive to both her and her stepfather. She also accused Najib of “turning a blind eye” to her mother’s corruption.