Tuesday, January 14, 2014

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Posted: 13 Jan 2014 08:36 PM PST MANILA, Jan 14, 2014 (AFP) - A jewellery collection owned by former first lady Imelda Marcos was "ill-gotten", a Philippine court has ruled, potentially paving the way for an auction of millions of dollars worth of seized treasures.

The anti-graft Sandiganbayan court decided on Monday that the Malacanang Collection, the smallest of three confiscated from the Marcos estate and worth some $150,000, was rightfully owned by the government.

"Partial judgement is hereby rendered declaring the pieces of jewellery, known as the Malacanang Collection, as ill-gotten, and are hereby forfeited in favour of petitioner Republic of the Philippines," read the 33-page ruling released Tuesday.

It is one of three collections seized from the Marcos estate, including a 60-piece set featuring a 150-carat Burmese ruby.

The other two collections are already in government hands, but the ruling is significant because previous attempts to auction off the entire haul have been derailed by legal issues relating to the Malacanang pieces.

Officials said the court ruling on its forfeiture meant that an auction could now proceed.

An assessment made by Christie's in 1991 put the value of three collections at up to $8.5 million dollars, though more than two decades on it is likely to be substantially higher.

The pieces in the smallest collection were seized from the Malacanang presidential palace after the 1986 "people power" revolution ended the two-decade regime of dictator Ferdinand Marcos.

He died in exile after fleeing to Hawaii with his family.

Imelda was known for her extravagant lifestyle and love of jewels, art and shoes, and the Marcos family still stand accused of stealing billions from state coffers.

The Philippine government has said it has so far recovered about $4 billion of an estimated stolen wealth of $10 billion, but no one from the Marcos family has been convicted.

The government has long said it wanted to put the jewellery on public display or auction it off to raise funds for its poverty alleviation programmes.

But the Marcos family has tried to block the government from claiming the treasures, and had fought the seizure in court.

Monday's judgement could still be appealed. However, the Presidential Commission on Good Government, the agency tasked by the government to go after the fabled Marcos wealth, welcomed the decision.

"PCGG is of course pleased," commission chairman Andres Bautista told AFP. "This is another victory for the Filipino people."

He said he would confer with President Benigno Aquino to make a final decision on what to do with the jewels, which are currently locked in a vault at Manila's central bank.

Posted: 13 Jan 2014 10:56 PM PST NEW DELHI, Jan 14, 2014 (AFP) - India's Rahul Gandhi said Tuesday he was open to leading the ruling Congress party into elections this year in his strongest hint yet that he is ready to be named as prime ministerial candidate.

The 43-year-old scion of the Nehru-Gandhi family, which has dominated India's post-independence politics, is typically evasive when asked about his future plans and role.

But in a rare interview granted to the Hindi-language Dainik Bhaskar newspaper, he indicated he was ready to bow to pressure within his party to project him formally as a leader-in-waiting.

"Just as at present, I will take up whatever responsibility is given to me by my party in the future and do it diligently to the best of my abilities," he said.

His comments come only days before a meeting on Friday of the top leaders in Congress where he is tipped to be named as their PM nominee for national elections which must be held by May.

Congress is lagging badly in the polls after two terms in power due to a resurgent Hindu nationalist Bharitiya Janata Party (BJP) and the upstart anti-corruption Aam Aadmi Party (AAP).

Rahul, widely portrayed as a reluctant leader whose refusal of the political spotlight has frustrated colleagues, maintains a low-profile in and outside of parliament, where he is an MP.

Gandhi dismissed the charge that he hesitated to take responsibility and was asked about his comment in January 2013 when he described power as "poison".

"Power is poison doesn't mean that I am not keen to take responsibility. I don't have the word 'reluctance' in my life," he said.

Gandhi's father, grandmother and great-grandfather were all prime ministers of India, while his Italian-born mother is the current president of the Congress party.

His main opponent as prime ministerial candidate would be BJP leader Narendra Modi, a business-friendly reformist from the western state of Gujarat whose links to anti-Muslim riots in 2002 remain controversial.

Gandhi also ruled out any significant role for his younger sister Priyanka, who is reported to have attended recent party meetings.

"As an active Congress worker she is helping me strengthen the party. But I don't think she will have any electoral role," he said.

Posted: 13 Jan 2014 10:32 PM PST

Torrential rain struck the eastern section of Mindanao island at the weekend, unleashing a fresh round of misery for survivors of Typhoon Bopha, civil defence officials said.

"Major rivers overflowed, causing people to drown in areas still recovering from Typhoon Pablo," local civil defence operations officer Franz Irag told AFP, using the local designation for Typhoon Bopha, which struck the region in December 2012.

"Many of the victims had not managed to rebuild and were staying in temporary shelters when they were hit by fresh flooding," Irag said.

Weekend floods and landslides killed eight people in Davao Oriental province and five in Compostela Valley, Irag said.

Additionally, six were buried in a landslide on the small southern island of Dinagat while three other people drowned in nearby areas, John Lenwayan, a civil defence official for the region, told AFP by telephone.

The bad weather also forced more than 194,000 people to flee their homes, Irag and Lenwayan said.

The two officials said the rains started abating on Monday and some of those who took refuge in government-run shelters were returning to their homes.

The Mindanao floods occurred amid an international rehabilitation effort for areas destroyed by Super Typhoon Haiyan in November last year.

Haiyan left at least 7,986 people dead or missing across the central Philippines, according to a running government tally. Bodies are still being recovered from under the rubble.

An average of 20 typhoons and storms kill hundreds of people across the Philippines every year, but the last three years have been exceptional in the ferocity of some of these disasters.

Bopha, which struck the region in December 2012, left 1,900 people dead or missing on Mindanao by government count.

Tropical Storm Washi also unleashed floods that killed 1,080 people in December 2011.

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