A jewellery collection owned by former first lady Imelda Marcos was "ill-gotten", a Philippine court has ruled, possibly paving the way for a massive auction of seized treasures worth millions of US dollars.
The anti-graft Sandiganbayan court decided the Malacanang Collection, the smallest of three confiscated from the Marcos estate and worth US$150,000, was rightfully owned by the government.
"Partial judgment is hereby rendered declaring the pieces of jewellery, known as the Malacanang Collection, as ill-gotten, and are hereby forfeited in favour of the petitioner, the Republic of the Philippines," read the 33-page ruling released yesterday.
The other two sets are already in government hands, but the ruling is significant because previous attempts to auction off the entire haul have been derailed by legal issues relating to the Malacanang pieces.
Officials said the court ruling on its forfeiture meant that an auction could now proceed.
An assessment made by Christie's in 1991 put the value of the three collections at up to US$8.5 million, though more than two decades on it is likely to be substantially higher.
The pieces in the smallest collection were seized from the Malacanang presidential palace after the 1986 "people power" revolution ended the two-decade regime of Ferdinand Marcos.
He died in exile after fleeing to Hawaii with his family. Imelda was known for her extravagant lifestyle and love of jewels, art and shoes, and the Marcos family still stand accused of stealing billions from state coffers.
The two other collections include 60 pieces of jewellery seized from Demetriou Roumeliotes, a Greek friend of the Marcoses, as he was leaving the country during the revolt.
The third collection is jewellery seized from the Marcoses when they fled to Hawaii, and was turned over to Manila.
The Philippine government has said it has so far recovered about US$4 billion of an estimated stolen wealth of US$10 billion, but no one from the Marcos family has been convicted. The government has long said it wanted to put the jewellery on public display or auction it off to raise funds for its poverty alleviation programmes.
But the Marcos family has tried to block the government from claiming the treasures and had fought the seizure in court.
Monday's judgment could still be appealed. However, the Presidential Commission on Good Government, the agency tasked by the government to go after the fabled Marcos wealth, welcomed the decision.
"This is another victory for the Filipino people," commission chairman Andres Bautista said.
On Monday, a US judge sentenced an ex-secretary to Imelda Marcos to up to six years in jail for plotting to sell a Monet painting that went missing in 1995.