After arriving at the wrong Church service two Thursdays ago, former first lady Imelda Marcos was stuck in a horrifically awkward spot.

The 86-year-old lover of all things lavish had accidentally attended a memorial service for victims of her late dictator-husband’s regime.

Ferdinand Marcos’ martial-law rule from 1972 to 1981 saw harrowing tales of arbitrary arrest, torture, disappearances and other gross human rights violations. During this time the powerful Marcos family plundered an estimated $US 10 billion from their poverty-stricken countrymen.

The ill-gotten wealth helped finane the flamboyant Imelda’s luxurious lifestyle – boasting extravagant jewelry, fine art of the likes of Picasso, Rembrandt and Van Gogh, and thousands of pairs of shoes.

Even worse — despite the Marcos regime being ousted in a people-power revolution in 1986, none of the Marcos have spent a day in prison for their crimes.

As the priest delivered a homily on the lessons learned from the martial-law rule, victims shared their stories first-hand. One man told how he had lost his ability to hear from the torture inflicted on him.

When her staffer pointed out where they were, Imelda said: “It’s fine. We’re all praying to the same God.” And despite the sensitive topic, no one present disrespected or criticised Imelda.

But Imelda clearly wasn’t as calm as she claimed to be, remaining stoic throughout the proceedings. She left abruptly afterwards, ignoring other attendees and the informational exhibit on display.

Mish Khan is Associate Editor at New Mandala and a third-year Asian Studies/law student. This article forms part of her Southeast Asian snapshots series.