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Agency told to give back Marcos' jewels

The Philippine government has ordered an anti-graft agency to return jewelry worth over US$310 million to former first lady Imelda Marcos that was seized after her husband was deposed from the presidency in 1986.

Justice Secretary Raul Gonzalez said yesterday that the government had not taken legal action to claim ownership of the jewelry.

"Evidently, Mrs Marcos remains to be the legitimate owner of the jewelry," he said in a letter to the Presidential Commission on Good Government, the anti-graft agency, adding it was also not proved the items were ill-gotten.

Gonzalez said the state agency, which aims to recover about US$10 billion worth of alleged ill-gotten wealth from the late leader Ferdinand Marcos and his family, failed to file a criminal or civil suit to claim the jewelry.

In 2006, the government tried to auction the jewelry collection, estimated to be worth 15 billion pesos (US$310.8 million), which has been kept in a vault at the Philippines' central bank since 1990.

Marcos, famous for her huge collection of shoes, jewelry and jet-setting lifestyle, went to a local court to stop the sale, arguing the gems were not acquired illegally using public funds.

"Thank God that after more than 23 years of relentless persecution and deprivation initiated by the government in 1986, President Gloria Arroyo's government has now started efforts for the Marcos' truth and justice to prevail," Marcos said in a statement issued through a spokeswoman.

"Many of those jewelry pieces were intended for religious images, like tiaras for the Blessed Virgin Mary."

The jewelry collections were seized at Malacanang Palace when the Marcoses fled the country in February 1986 after Ferdinand Marcos was toppled by a civilian-backed army coup.

Another set of jewelry was seized by United States authorities when the Marcoses settled in Hawaii.


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