MANILA // Termites, storms and neglect have damaged part of former Philippine first lady Imelda Marcos's legendary collection of shoes and other vanity possessions, left behind after she and her dictator husband were driven into US exile by a 1986 popular revolt.
Hundreds of pieces of Ferdinand Marcos's clothing, including the formal see-through Barong shirts he wore during his two-decade rule, have also begun to gather mould and fray after being stored for years without protection at the presidential palace and later at Manila's National Museum, officials said.
The Marcoses fled the Philippines at the climax of the army-backed "people power" revolt, which became a harbinger of change in authoritarian regimes worldwide. Ferdinand Marcos died in exile in Hawaii in 1989 and his widow and children returned home years later.
They left behind staggering amounts of personal belongings, clothes and art objects at the palace, including at least 1,220 pairs of Imelda's shoes.
More than 150 carton boxes of clothes, dress accessories and shoes from the pair were transferred to the National Museum for safekeeping two years ago after termites, humidity and mould threatened the apparel at the riverside palace.
There they deteriorated further as the fragile boxes were abandoned in a padlocked museum hall that had no facilities to protect such relics and that was inundated by tropical storm rains last month due to a gushing leak in the ceiling, museum officials said.
Museum staff, who were not aware the boxes contained precious mementoes from the couple, opened the hall on the fourth floor of the building after noticing water pouring out from under the door. They were shocked to see Imelda's shoes and gowns when they opened the wet boxes, officials said.
Workers hurriedly moved the boxes to a dry room and some were later brought to a museum laboratory, where a small team of curators scrambled to assess the extent of the damage, a process that may take months given the huge volume of the apparel. Some items have obviously been damaged by termites and mould beyond repair, according to Orlando Abinion, the museum curator who is heading the effort.
"We're doing a conservation rescue," Mr Abinion said. "There was termite infestation and mould in past years, and these were aggravated by last month's storm.
"It's unfortunate because Imelda may have worn some of these clothes in major official events and as such have an important place in our history."
Two AP journalists saw a badly tattered box at the museum with damaged and soiled leather bags and designer shoes of Imelda Marcos's bulging out. Termites damaged the heel and sole of a white Pierre Cardin shoe. Other shoes had been warped out of shape or messed by stains.
About 100 of Ferdinand Marcos's Barong shirts were squeezed tight into another box, some still attached to plastic hangers. A white Barong shirt on top, with the colourful presidential seal emblazoned on its pocket, looked dishevelled with reddish stains and a sleeve nearly torn off.
Imelda Marcos, now a member of the House of Representatives, was not immediately available for comment.
Her massive shoe collection, including top European and American brands, astounded the world and became a symbol of excess in the South East Asian nation, where many still walked barefoot out of abject poverty.
Ferdinand Marcos's successor, Corazon Aquino, accused him of stealing billions of dollars during his 20-year rule and ordered many of his assets seized.
The Marcos's clothes and shoes were not among the assets allegedly stolen by them and sequestered by the government following the dictator's fall, according to Presidential Commission on Good Government official Maita Gonzaga. The government has so far recovered US$2.24 billion (Dh8.22bn) worth of cash, bank accounts and prime real estate from Marcos and their cronies, she said.
After the 1986 revolt, Mrs Aquino had Imelda's shoes displayed at the presidential palace as a symbol of the former first lady's lavish lifestyle. The shoes were then removed from public view and stored in the palace basement when Mrs Aquino stepped down in 1992.
Imelda Marcos claimed many of the shoes were gifts from Filipino shoemakers in suburban Marikina city, the country's shoemaking capital, for endorsing their products. Marikina officials borrowed 800 pairs of her shoes in 2001 for a shoe museum, which has become a tourist spot. Massive flooding, however, damaged dozens of pairs of Marcos' shoes in Marikina in 2009.
About 765 pairs, including famous brands like Gucci, Charles Jourdan, Christian Dior, Ferragamo, Chanel and Prada, survived the Marikina floods. The shoes still look remarkably new due to meticulous museum care, which includes displaying them in airtight and dust-free glass cabinets in an air-conditioned gallery, away from direct sunlight. The shoe collection draws a daily crowd of 50 to 100 Philippine and foreign tourists, who almost always leave in awe, museum manager Jane Ballesteros said.
"The first word they utter is `Wow,' followed by the question, `Was she able to wear all of these?"' Ms Ballesteros said. "When I say, yes, look at the scratches on the soles, the next reaction is, `Really?"'
"It's amusing," Ms Ballesteros said. "Her shoes never fail to astound people years after."