Hundreds of guests at Imelda Marcos's 90th birthday party rushed to hospital with food poisoning

Nicola Smith
The former Philippine first lady is famous for her predilection for luxury and her extensive collection of shoes and jewelry - REX

It was a 90th birthday party to remember, but for all the wrong reasons. A public celebration for Imelda Marcos, the former Philippine first lady, ended in chaos and a slew of excruciating headlines when more than 260 friends and supporters were rushed to hospital with suspected food poisoning. 

The sudden outbreak of mass vomiting, diarrhoea and dizziness was so serious that the local disaster risk reduction authorities were mobilised and Francisco Duque, the health minister, was forced to make a statement. 

Richard Gordon, the CEO of the Philippine Red Cross, tweeted pictures of medic teams in orange vests responding to the emergency at the Ynares Sports Complex in the city of Pasig and carting people off in ambulances to nearby hospitals. 

“As of 1.55pm, 137 patients suffered from vomiting and dizziness due to alleged food poisoning. According to reports, adobo [a Philippine dish] and egg were served to est. 2,000 participants,” he said, later updating the figure to more than 200. 

According to the Rappler news site, food distributed to the party-goers included a boiled egg, chicken adobo in a plastic bag, and rice.  

Emergency responders attend to Filipino supporters of former Philippine first lady Imelda Marcos Credit: ROLEX DELA PENA/EPA-EFE/REX

Larry Gadon, an attendee, said in a statement to the media that Mrs Marcos was not personally involved in the party preparations as her supporters had made the arrangements. 

“The food packs were brought by a group of supporters which they shared among the loyalists who came early. It was not a catered food. The event itself was organised by loyalists. Madam Marcos was totally unaware,” he said. 

Mrs Marcos, the widow of late dictator Ferdinand Marcos, was not affected, radio station DWIZ quoted her chief of staff as saying. Video posted on Facebook showed people lining up at her table to greet her. 

Mrs Marcos remains popular among the party faithful despite her divisive reputation as first lady, when she was famous for her extravagant collection of shoes, jewellery and artworks. 

Her husband was deposed and exiled by a popular uprising in 1986 but the family has returned as a powerful force in national politics and enjoys good ties with President Rodrigo Duterte.

Many guests had travelled long distances to see their idol, only to fall desperately sick. The victims were rushed to ten local hospitals. 

Luzviminda Lilio, 63, told Rappler she had travelled over 300 miles from the island of Leyte just to catch a glimpse of the Marcos matriarch. 

She journeyed 200 people from the "Maharlika Marcos Loyalist Incorporated" – a group of Marcos supporters, shelling out 3,500 peso (£54) for the return boat and bus ride. 

The group slept overnight in the sports complex and were served packed meals in the morning. Ms Lilio said the egg tasted a little spoiled but she was hungry. Minutes later, she experienced pain in her stomach and went outside the complex to see others vomiting.

The incident adds to more misery for Imelda Marcos, who is the subject of dozens of graft cases that have hounded her for decades. 

She was sentenced to 11 years in prison on seven counts of corruption last year for making illegal bank transfers worth $200 million to Swiss foundations while Manila governor in the 1970s. Mrs Marcos denies the charges and is on bail pending her appeal. 

Her daughter Imee, an incoming senator, tried to mitigate the PR disaster, which exploded on social media in the Philippines. 

"The food may have been spoiled, but we remain solid," she told those left at the party in comments streamed live on Facebook. "Let's just take care of those who are in the hospital and expect that we will visit each one of them."