Imelda Marcos, the Philippines' most famous political survivor, toasted her 85th birthday Wednesday as the former first lady made plans for a triumphal return to the presidential palace. Wearing a flowing red gown and diamond rings, the self-declared "poverty-stricken" Marcos was serenaded by throngs of supporters as she emerged from her private chambers in the family mansion in their northern stronghold of Batac. "My only wish is for God to give me a little more strength to prolong my life," Marcos told reporters who asked about her birthday wish. She said she had seen "the best, best, best and the worst, worst worst" in life, but insisted she has no plans to ride into the sunset just yet. "I still have a vision and hope to bring more help to the Filipino people," she said in a free-wheeling, often rambling, interview. She insisted that Ferdinand Marcos Junior, her senator son and namesake of her late husband, was "qualified" to contest the presidency in May 2016 when incumbent Benigno Aquino, son of the Marcoses' top political foes, ends his six-year term. "(Returning to) Malacanang would be a great help," in implementing her projects, said Marcos, referring to the presidential palace. The flamboyant matriarch became the symbol of excess during the brutal 20-year regime of her late husband, who was also accused of looting state coffers and whose martial law rule was marked by human rights abuses. While the rest of the country wallowed in poverty and thousands of activists were killed or went missing, Imelda Marcos and her children enjoyed a jet-setting lifestyle. She amassed a jewellery collection valued in the tens of millions of dollars and acquired hundreds of paintings by international masters, including Monets and Picassos. The government conservatively estimates that Marcos plundered government coffers of about $10 billion. A military-backed "People Power" revolt in 1986 chased Marcos and his family into exile in Hawaii, where the dictator died three years later. As the public stormed the abandoned presidential palace, they discovered Imelda's 3,000 pairs of shoes that came to symbolise the extent of her extravagance. Imelda Marcos and her three children were subsequently allowed to return home, and have since regained significant political clout in the late dictator's northern home province of Ilocos Norte. Imelda Marcos won a second term as congresswoman representing Ilocos Norte last year, the same year her son was elected senator. He has hinted at joining the presidential race in 2016. Her eldest daughter, Imee, is the provincial governor. On Wednesday a regal but tired-looking Imelda dramatically planted a kiss on her husband's glass coffin as photographers jostled for position. The dictator's wax-like remains are kept in an airconditioned crypt at the family compound which has become a macabre tourist attraction. Declaring herself the "mother of world peace", Imelda then hit out at plans by the Aquino government to auction off her jewellery collection. She accused Aquino's mother, the late democracy hero Corazon Aquino who was installed as president after the Marcos family fled, of persecution. "Her first act was to confiscate and sequester all Marcos wealth even before we were tried, and that was illegal," Marcos said. She said she would prefer to have the jewels put on public display "because I want the Filipinos to know what is world-class and see that". Marcos did not discuss her fragile health. She was rushed to hospital last year for extreme fatigue but later recovered.
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