MANILA // Former Philippine first lady Imelda Marcos said on Tuesday that she will have a merry Christmas thanks to a court ordering the return of one of the sprawling mansions the government seized after her husband was deposed.
The Supreme Court ruled late on Monday that the government agency created to recover billions of dollars allegedly looted by former dictator Ferdinand Marcos and his wife used a defective order to seize the beachfront, 42-hectare estate on Leyte Island.
The ruling came 24 years after a nonviolent "people power" uprising ousted Marcos and the government sequestered most of their property. Imelda Marcos and her children are seeking the return of the assets.
Officials allege the sprawling property was acquired through Marcos's looting of public money while in power. Imelda Marcos has long denied the allegation, saying the mansion is a family property where her father was born.
An aide said she broke into tears upon learning of the court decision.
"This is indeed a very happy Christmas, and I will try to go to Leyte before this holiday season is over," the former first lady said.
Imelda Marcos will forever be remembered for the dazzling jewels and 1,220 pairs of shoes she left behind in the presidential palace. They also are among the assets seized by the government and sought by the Marcoses.
Marcos and his associates allegedly amassed up to $10 billion in ill-gotten wealth during his 21 years in power. The Presidential Commission on Good Government has so far identified around $6.5 billion and recovered cash and assets totaling around $1.97 billion.
Marcos, who declared martial law in 1972, ruled with an iron fist, imprisoning dissidents and stifling freedoms. He died in exile in Hawaii in 1989 without being brought to trial.
Imelda Marcos returned to the Philippines in 1991, followed later by her children, and re-entered politics. She was elected in May to the House of Representatives, her second time in Congress. Her son Bongbong was elected a senator and daughter Imee a provincial governor.
Despite some 900 civil and criminal cases she has faced in Philippine courts – ranging from tax evasion to embezzlement and corruption – she has emerged relatively unscathed and has never served prison time. All but a handful of the cases have been dismissed for lack of evidence and a few convictions were overturned on appeal.
Marcos, 81, says the Leyte property – including a 17-room house, a golf course, swimming pool, cottages and a pavilion – belonged to her family long before her husband was born.
Presidential commission spokesman Nick Suarez said the government will likely appeal.
The Supreme Court said the ruling will not necessarily be fatal to the government's main ill-gotten wealth case and state prosecutors can still argue that the property was acquired illegally.
The court ruled on the basis that the seizure order was signed only by lawyers. It said under the presidential commission's rules, at least two commissioners should have signed the sequestration order.