The Philippine government plans to auction off millions of dollars worth of jewelry left behind by former First Lady Imelda Marcos after she and her husband were driven from power. Representatives of auction houses Christie's and Sotheby's are visiting Manila Thursday, to value the collection, a process that could take several days.
To many people, the flamboyant wife of former President Ferdinand Marcos is best known for the more than 1200 pairs of shoes she left behind in Manila's Malacanang Place when she and her husband fled to Hawaii in 1986. But Imelda Marcos also had an appetite for jewelry.
The Philippine government has been holding some of her collection, which was also confiscated in Hawaii and the Philippines after the couple's departure.
The Philippine news media have reported that the items include a Persian-style necklace with more than 100 carats of canary and pink diamonds, and a diamond studded bracelet.
The reports have valued the collection at between $10 and $20 million - only a small portion of the billions the couple is accused of plundering from the Philippines during Ferdinand Marcos's years in office.
The proceeds of the auction are slated to go to the government. On the streets of Manila Wednesday, many people favored that plan.
"Auction? Depends on where the money will go. I mean if it will go to the government, back to us, then it's okay," one woman said.
"Imelda? … I think the jewelry should be auctioned if and only if the money will go to the government and will go to the people," said another.
"Obviously it came from government coffers," a third bystander said. " I think we have to auction so that the funding can be used by government for some of their poverty alleviation programs."
The Presidential Commission on Good Government, which is in charge of recovering the allegedly ill-gotten gains of the Marcos couple, plans to go ahead with the auction in Geneva in November, or in May if that is not possible. Both months are said to be peak times for such sales. Previous attempts to sell the jewels have fallen through because of various disputes, including over where to sell the items.
Some of the items were recovered in the Philippines, and under normal procedures should be auctioned here. Others were recovered by U.S. authorities in Hawaii, where the Marcos's lived after they fled. The Commission on Good Government wanted to auction all the items in a bloc in order to get a higher price, and wanted to hold the sale overseas.
Mrs. Marcos, who lives in the Philippines, has threatened to go to court to block the sale, saying the government has no proof the funds used to purchase the jewels were obtained through corrupt means. The Presidential Commission says the auction will go ahead anyway.
Mrs. Marcos returned to the Philippines a few years after fleeing in 1986. The commission's chief information officer, Nick Suarez, says she still has several cases pending against her on charges including tax evasion and unexplained wealth.
He says extensive legal maneuvers by Mrs. Marcos and counter-measures by the government have dragged out the legal battle for many years. He also says the Marcos money has been well hidden, which is why it has taken a long time to locate it, and then to recover it legally.
Mr. Suarez says the commission has already recovered about one billion dollars in Marcos wealth. He says the agency plans to sell off about $400 million in items over the next few years, including mansions, television stations and stocks. The search goes on.