I was filming a documentary for the TV station Channel 9 in 1974 for the birthday of Philippine President Ferdinand Edralin Marcos with Kitchie Benedicto when I was asked to proceed to the National Media Production Center by Information Secretary Gregorio Cendana. The affable Cendana wanted me to work for him as special events photographer and cinematographer for government TV Channel 4.

That same year, I joined the delegation of the First Lady, Imelda Romualdez Marcos, in her first visit to the People’s Republic of China that paved the way for the presidential visit in June 1975 that, in turn, led to the establishment of diplomatic relations between the Philippines and China. Mrs. Marcos didn’t know me much at that time.

The NMPC media group that included former Evening Express Managing Editor Marita Manuel made a film documentary of the visit. While Mrs. Marcos was previewing the film, she kept asking each time she saw a good photograph, “Who took that picture?” and each time, Marita would stand and say “Jolly Riofrir.” From then on, I was part of the small circle of staffers and friends that went with Mrs. Marcos in her many trips abroad, with or without the President.

In one of those trips, specifically on October 24, 1979 in Washington D.C., after separate meetings with US Vice President Walter Mondale and Agriculture Secretary Robert Bergland, Mrs. Marcos and her entourage had to rush to the airport before it closed during a harsh winter storm. In their rush, Mrs. Marcos’ car careened off the road and landed on the snow-covered embankment. We all ran towards the car and Mrs. Marcos had to be pulled out of the car. I had to bring down my camera to hold the umbrella and shield her from the falling snow. Not a bit shocked, Mrs. Marcos took another car and we all made it to the airport in time for the flight.

As their official photographer, I saw many facets of Mrs. Marcos’ life that only those close to her knew. Not many know that Mrs. Marcos loved to cook and personally supervised the kitchen when there were special occasions, such as the birthday of her eldest daughter, Imee, who is now governor of Ilocos Norte and her only son, Ferdinand “Bongbong” Jr., who is now a senator.

She spent a lot of time with her husband, children and grandchildren despite her very tight schedule as First Lady, governor of Metro Manila, Minister of Human Settlements, Ambassador-at-large, and later as assemblywoman representing
Metro Manila. Mrs. Marcos, who used to sing for her uncle’s music store in Manila as a young teen, loves to sing and she would sing for Malacanang guests, sometimes with the President.

Mrs. Marcos spent a lot of time with close friends, especially the so-called Blue Ladies. She played cards with Cabinet members on board planes, played badminton with General Fidel V. Ramos and actor George Hamilton, frolicked on the beach with Blue Ladies friends during breaks between functions, and undertook other activities that never made it to the newspapers.

The pictures appearing in this collection are products of my 10 years spent with the First Lady from 1974 — two years after President Marcos declared martial law — up to 1984, two years before the Philippine leader was forced to fly to Hawaii at the height of the People Power Revolution on EDSA in 1986.

I am sharing those 10 years with you in the form of very rare photographs that I kept with me through the years. I hope you find value in them as I did.

Emmanuel “Jolly” Riofrir

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