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29 February 2024

Unhappy birthday: Hundreds fall sick at Imelda Marcos party

Attendees (L, in red) are checked by medical personnel after they fell ill with suspected food poisoning from meals served during a birthday celebration in honour of former Philippine first lady Imelda Marcos, at a sports arena in Manila. (AFP)


Over 200 guests fell ill with suspected food poisoning Wednesday after a meal at a birthday party for 90-year-old Imelda Marcos, the notorious former first lady of the Philippines.

Ambulances rushed vomiting friends and supporters from a sports stadium in Manila where around 2,500 people gathered to honour the widow of late dictator Ferdinand Marcos.

Although Marcos was chased from power by a 1986 peaceful uprising, the family is still revered by many in the Philippines and has made a political comeback in recent years.

"Our ambulances took people to hospital after they complained of dizziness and vomiting. They apparently suffered from food poisoning," Philippine Red Cross chairman Richard Gordon told AFP.

Health secretary Francisco Duque told journalists the number of ill was 260.

One of them, a woman who only gave her first name, Leonora, said she believed it was caused by the party food.

"I wasn't that hungry so I only ate the egg and a little steamed rice. I vomited and an ambulance took me to the Rizal Medical Centre where I was given an IV drip," the woman told AFP.

"I blame the cook. Everyone knows Madam (Imelda) is blameless since she was not the one who cooked it," she added.

The party featured singing and speeches, as well as water bottles adorned with Imelda's name and meals in plastic boxes.

There were no immediate reports that the guest of honour was taken ill.

The family later issued an apology while pledging to help those who were sick and cooperate with an official investigation.

"I offer my apologies ask for your understanding. Rest assured that we will continue to help until everyone is fully healed," her son Ferdinand Junior said in a statement.

Family matriarch Imelda was convicted in November in a corruption case stemming from the time of her husband's brutal dictatorship.

Although currently free on bail pending an appeal, she faces decades behind bars after being found guilty of funnelling around $200 million through Swiss foundations decades ago.

Ferdinand Marcos, who along with his cronies was accused of pilfering $10 billion from the Philippines, fled with his family to the US after his dictatorship fell in 1986.

He died in exile three years later, but his heirs later returned to Manila and the political scene.

Imelda Marcos just finished a term as a congresswoman, her son Ferdinand Junior has also served as a senator while eldest daughter Imee won a Senate seat in May's elections.

The family has a powerful ally in President Rodrigo Duterte, who ordered the late dictator's remains interred at Manila's Heroes' Cemetery despite public protests.