Described as “tough” and the president’s “backbone”.
By now, Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos Jr would have already assembled the ministers and department heads he needs to help him run his government.
But there’s one person who will sit high up in the pecking order, without the baggage of accountability that elected and appointed officials have – his 62-year-old wife, lawyer Louise Araneta-Marcos, known to most as Liza.
At the end of every day, she will be there to help him sort out the decisions he has to make.
She has said she has no interest in joining his government, but she is widely believed to have been the architect of his political ascent.
“I don’t think he makes any decision without talking to the wife. (She) will be the No. 1 adviser, the No. 1 voice to listen to, the last voice to listen to,” a lawyer who attended university with Araneta-Marcos told Agence France-Presse.
Michael Marcos Keon, a cousin of Mr Marcos Jr, described her as “tough”. “In many ways, she’s (Mr Marcos Jr’s) backbone,” he said.
So, who is the Philippines’ new First Lady? Is she in the same mould as her controversial mother-in-law, former first lady Imelda Marcos, best known for her extravagant shopping sprees in New York and over 3,000 pairs of shoes?
By most accounts, the new First Lady is no Imelda. She is even said to have side-lined her mother-in-law, and their relationship has been described as “icy” over disagreements that stretch back to when she and Marcos Jr were still dating.
The couple were an odd pair. They came from opposite sides of Philippine politics. Araneta-Marcos was from a wealthy family linked to a political party that opposed the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos Sr, her husband’s father and namesake.
When they met in New York in 1989, she was working as a lawyer, and he was in exile after a military-backed popular uprising forced his family to flee the Philippines in shame three years earlier.
“We were just friends. It wasn’t love at first sight or whatever,” she recalled in an interview with ABS-CBN News in March.
“We just used to hang out together and became friends, and then I could see he was really a kind person,” she said.
“He’d make me laugh, and we just developed that way.”
Her parents naturally disapproved of Marcos Jr. He was, for them, the enemy.
But they eventually accepted him and the couple were married in Italy in 1993.
Marcos Jr’s mother and elder sister Imee have never warmed up to his wife, according to Marcos watchers.
“Imelda and Imee felt Bongbong (Marcos Jr’s nickname) was marrying below the (Marcos) family’s status because Liza belonged to the ‘poor side’ of the Aranetas,” said an article in online business news site Bilyonaryo.com.
Her father was a basketball player who once competed in the Olympics. He was a distant cousin of the wife of former president Manuel Roxas, who held sway over the Araneta clan, which owned vast sugar plantations dating back to when the Philippines was still a colony of Spain.
That rift between Araneta-Marcos and her in-laws has never really been mended, but she has made it clear that she is the one who has her husband’s ear.
In an interview with a celebrity reporter last year, Marcos Jr said his wife had “super powers”, and would get angry or cry when she wanted an airline upgrade or a ticket to a sold-out event.
“But I get my way,” she said in the same interview.
That she is tough, smart and used to getting her way is a result of having to make her own way in life rather than live off a trust fund.
She finished her law degree in 1985 and worked as an associate at a Manhattan law firm, while getting a master’s degree in criminal procedure at New York University.
She returned to the Philippines in 1990, a year ahead of Marcos Jr. She joined a local law firm and also taught law at a university in her husband’s home province of Ilocos Norte. In 2006, she founded her own law firm.
Even now that her husband is president, she is unlikely to become more visible.
“I really like my anonymity,” she said.
But it will be apparent that, though unseen, her hands will be at the helm, helping her husband steer the Philippines to whatever future he has planned for over 110 million Filipinos.
“My role model is me… It has to be my way or the highway,” she has said.
– The Star