Philippines to exhibit Imelda's US$360m jewels

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Manila (Philippine Daily Inquirer/ANN) - Twenty-seven years after the ouster of the late Philippine dictator Ferdinand Marcos, the public will finally get to see the fabulous jewellery collection amassed by Marcos' wife, now Ilocos Norte Representative Imelda Marcos, during the 20 years they held power.

Imelda's jewellery collection, which the government seized in 1986, will be put on display this year.

The Presidential Commission on Good Government (PCGG), the agency given the task of tracking down and recovering the Marcos ill-gotten assets, is in serious talks with the agencies concerned over logistics, costs and security matters with regard to the exhibit, said PCGG Commissioner Maita Chan-Gonzaga.

The PCGG is aiming to mount the exhibit by the third quarter of the year at the earliest.

Gonzaga said the finance and tourism departments and the National Museum support the project.

She said Imelda's jewellery collection is being put on display not so much for the tourism appeal but for the historical significance.

Another symbol

Next to the 2,000 or so pairs of shoes she left behind in the Palace during the 1986 People Power Revolution, Imelda's jewellery is another symbol of the infamous ostentatiousness and unseemly extravagance of the former first lady, she said.

"(The exhibit) is a mechanism for remembrance, to make sure any revisionist history doesn't take root, so the excesses of the past will not be forgotten," Gonzaga said.

"The tourism value is secondary to us. It's not to aggrandise the jewellery. It's part of a larger picture. You can't forget the abuses of the past," she said.

Three caches

The Imelda jewellery collection, comprising three caches, is stored in the vaults of the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP or central bank) and has stayed there since 1986.

The Hawaii or Honolulu collection consists of 400 pieces seized by the United States Bureau of Customs from the Marcoses when they fled to Honolulu after the first Edsa People Power Revolution of 1986.

The Palace collection, composed of about 300 pieces, were left behind in Imelda's closets when the Marcoses hurriedly left the Palace in 1986.

The so-called Roumeliotes collection of 60 major pieces is named after Imelda's Greek accomplice, Demetriou Roumeliotes, who was caught trying to spirit the jewellery out of the country a few weeks after the Marcoses fled.

The Palace collection is still entangled in litigation at the Sandiganbayan antigraft court. Government lawyers asked the court last November for a partial summary judgement on the case.

The Imelda jewellery hoard was last appraised before 2003, according to Gonzaga.

At the time, the Roumeliotes collection was valued at around US$6.4 million, the Palace collection at $7 million and the Hawaii collection at $2 million.

The previous PCGG administration reported in 2006 that international auction houses Sotheby's and Christie's estimated the entire lot to have a value of 15 billion pesos ($360 million).

All accounted for

An inventory was done in a joint audit by the Office of the President, the Bureau of Customs and the PCGG in November and December last year.

Gonzaga has dismissed rumours that some of the pieces have been stolen from the BSP vaults or replaced with fake ones. She said she could vouch for the top-notch security of the vaults.

"They are all accounted for," said PCGG chairman Andres Bautista.

He said Sotheby's and Christie's have been contacting the PCGG about finally auctioning off the jewellery but the plan is to exhibit the jewellery first before selling.

Receipts, checks, notes

Also to be put on display with the jewellery are the receipts and cancelled checks and personal notes that give the background on how Imelda acquired her fabulous jewellery collection, Gonzaga said.

It will not be possible to display all the pieces, she said, but only representative pieces from each collection, which consists of tiaras, necklaces, brooches, earrings studded with valuable gems and even diamond-studded belts.

The government tried in 1994 and 1996 to sell the jewellery to raise money for the government but court cases and disputes over the terms of the sale prevented the auction.

Another attempt was made in 2005 but Imelda went to a Manila court, asking for an injunction against the auction, saying the jewellery belonged to her and claiming that some pieces were supposed family heirlooms.

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