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June 15, 2009 8:12 pm
She was famous for her shoes and lavish lifestyle. Now, 23 years after her husband was deposed as leader of the Philippines, Imelda Marcos may soon be reunited with her jewellery. The Philippine government has urged the return of gems worth more than $310m (€224m), including a Burmese ruby said to be as big as a prune.
The justice department on Monday ordered an anti-corruption agency to resolve claims dating back two decades on several sets of jewellery allegedly belonging to Mrs Marcos and return them to her family if warranted.
Raul Gonzalez, justice secretary, said that the Presidential Commission on Good Government, which aims to recover about $10bn of the allegedly ill-gotten wealth of Ferdinand Marcos, the late dictator, and his family, did not issue a sequestration order when it seized the jewellery in 1986.
“Evidently, Mrs Marcos remains to be the legitimate owner of said prized jewellery,” Mr Gonzalez said in a letter to the commission.
The commission said that it was surprised but would discuss the order on Tuesday.
The collection, which reportedly included a diamond brooch, bracelet and earrings as well as the prune-sized ruby, has been kept in a vault at the Philippines’ central bank since 1990.
Mrs Marcos, who went to court to stop a government attempt to auction the jewellery collection in 2006 arguing that the gems were not acquired illegally using public funds, welcomed Monday’s decision.
“Thank God that after more than 23 years of relentless persecution and deprivation initiated by the Cory Aquino administration in 1986, President Gloria Arroyo’s government has now started efforts for truth and justice to prevail,” she said.
Many of the pieces were meant for religious images, including “tiaras for the Blessed Virgin Mary”, said the former first lady, whose power and extravagance is the theme of a show, Imelda: The New Musical, set to open on Broadway in New York this autumn.
But the justice department order was condemned by human rights advocates as another example of the “unpredictability and instability” of government policies under Mrs Arroyo.
The president is struggling to counter record low popularity ratings amid a widespread perception that she is behind attempts to rewrite the constitution to remain in power after her term ends next year.
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