BERN, Switzerland, August 7, 2003 (STAR) Swiss authorities approved turning hundreds of millions of dollars stashed in Swiss banks by late dictator Ferdinand Marcos back over to the Philippines government, the justice ministry said Tuesday.

"The Philippines may now dispose of the Marcos assets that were deposited in a frozen account in 1998 and have since grown to approximately $683 million," the ministry said in a statement.

Swiss and Philippine officials met in Zurich on Tuesday to conclude the case following a July 15 ruling by the Philippine Supreme Court that awarded Marcos’ frozen Swiss bank deposits to the Philippine government after the Marcos family "failed to justify the lawful nature of their acquisition" of the said deposits.

The Philippine government and victims of human rights abuses under the Marcos administration have lauded Switzerland’s decision.

"It’s good news for the government," said Vyva Aguirre, who heads the Presidential Commission on Good Government (PCGG), the agency tasked with recovering the alleged ill-gotten wealth of Marcos, widow Imelda and their cronies.

"It means that we’re not waiting for anything anymore," she said yesterday.

Meanwhile, Rod Domingo, lead lawyer for the human rights victims, said the release of the Swiss funds is a historic victory for the Filipino people.

"For the 9,539 victims of the Marcos martial rule, it draws them nearer to their long overdue compensation. It is now up to Congress to pass a valid and constitutional law which can withstand legal scrutiny," Domingo said.

The proposed compensation bill seeks to allocate $200 million to human rights victims.

Mrs. Marcos and her three children have appealed the Philippine court’s decision, saying she and her three children were deprived of due process.

Ferdinand Marcos died in exile in Hawaii in September 1989, three years after a popular revolt ended his 20-year-presidency.

Accounts worth about $356 million were discovered and ordered frozen by the Swiss government shortly after Marcos was toppled. The Swiss funds were the largest amount recovered from the billions of dollars Marcos and his wife allegedly acquired in power.

In 1990, Switzerland’s highest court — the Federal Tribunal — approved the handover of bank documents relating to the Marcos family, but ruled that the actual return of assets would be conditional on a "final and absolute" judgment in the Philippines.

In 1997, the Swiss tribunal ruled that the funds were ill-gotten and approved their transfer to an escrow account at the Philippine National Bank.

In 1998, the money — which had grown to $570 million — was transferred, but Swiss authorities held back a portion because it was linked to other government officials, including former ministers.

Switzerland later released $30 million, saying Philippine authorities failed to provide evidence that they were still pursuing the individuals concerned.

The justice ministry said $10 million remains frozen in Switzerland, while $5.5 million was transferred to the Philippines escrow account. But a Philippine court will have to issue a separate final ruling before the $15.5 million total can be handed over to the Philippine government, the ministry said. — AP, Rainier Allan Ronda

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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