Duterte says Marcos family eyeing return of money, gold bars

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte said Tuesday the family of former dictator Ferdinand Marcos has indicated a willingness to return a still-unspecified amount of money and "a few gold bars" to help ease the government's expected budget deficit.

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Duterte said without elaborating that he was considering designating three people, including a former Supreme Court chief justice, to negotiate with the Marcoses over the return of the assets.

Duterte said the Marcoses' intention was relayed by a family spokesman, whom he did not identify, and indicated the Marcoses were of the view that the assets to be returned had not been stolen as alleged by political opponents.

"I will accept the explanation, whether or not it is true," Duterte said in a speech to newly appointed officials.

The Marcoses are "ready to open and bring back (assets) including a few gold bars," Duterte quoted the Marcos family spokesman as saying. "It's not that big, it's not Fort Knox, it's just a few but they said, they'll return."

There was no immediate reaction from the Marcos family, including his wife Imelda, who is currently a member of the House of Representatives.

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Marcos was ousted in a 1986 "people power" revolt and died in exile in Hawaii three years later without admitting any wrongdoing, including accusations that he and his family amassed an estimated $5 billion to $10 billion while he was in power.

Marcos placed the Philippines under martial rule in 1972, a year before his term was to expire. He padlocked Congress, ordered the arrest of political rivals and left-wing activists and ruled by decree.

A Hawaii court found Marcos liable for human rights violations and awarded $2 billion from his estate to compensate more than 9,000 Filipinos who filed a lawsuit against him for torture, incarceration, extrajudicial killings and disappearances.

Although he rose to power last year on a promise to combat widespread crime and corruption, Duterte has acknowledged that one of Marcos' daughters, a provincial governor, backed his presidential candidacy. Duterte has noted that his late father, a local politician, was a trusted Cabinet member of Marcos.

In November last year, Duterte approved the burial of the long-dead Marcos at the country's Heroes' Cemetery in a secrecy-shrouded ceremony, sparking protests and shocking many democracy advocates and human rights victims.

Burying someone accused of massive rights violations and plunder at the heroes' cemetery, which is reserved for former presidents, soldiers and national artists, has long been an emotional and divisive issue.

Duterte argued that it was Marcos's right as a president and soldier to be buried at the cemetery, taking a political risk in a country where democracy advocates still celebrate Marcos's ouster each year.