NEW YORK -- The Supreme Court of the Philippines yesterday declined to issue a restraining order sought by former Philippine First Lady Imelda Marcos, clearing the way for auctions today and tomorrow of some $10 million in old-master paintings and silver once owned by Marcos and her late husband, Ferdinand.
The proceeds from the auctions will be used to finance agrarian reform and earthquake relief efforts, the Philippine government said.
Marcos had contended that the treasures were the property of the Philippine people, and could not be sold by the government. They had been seized by the Philippine government after Ferdinand Marcos was deposed in 1986.
Christie's said yesterday that it will proceed with the sales.
"It's an affirmation that we have clear sailing," said Patricia G. Hambrecht, general counsel and senior vice president of the auction house. "We are always concerned with two things -- good title and the right to sell -- and now we feel we have both."
But James Paul Linn, Imelda Marcos's attorney in New York, said, "I think it's just as risky for Christie's and any prospective buyers as I ever did."
He said yesterday's court decision was based on technicalities and was not a finding on the merits of the lawsuit filed at Marcos's behest. The court, Linn said, "did not decide whether there was a legitimate claim."
Linn quoted one dissenting justice, Hugo Gutierrez Jr., who said that the government "has not come up with any satisfactory response to the argument that much of what it sells in the U.S. goes to lawyers and other expenses, not to the Philippine Treasury."
The Philippine government continues to contend that the Marcos lawsuit is nothing but a tactic to embarrass the government of president Corazon Aquino.
"I think it's just another attempt to try to bring down the prices," said Teresa Roxas, spokeswoman for the Philippine commission that organized the sale. "They've known about this sale for months. They had plenty of time to file for an injunction. One has to question their timing as well. It proves it was just a publicity stunt."
Roxas said "The Supreme Court was their last resort and they lost."
Roberta Maneker, a spokeswoman for Christie's, said the auction house does not expect the publicity over the Marcos suit to affect prices. "We've had splendid response from buyers," she said.
"It will be difficult to tell until the sale is over."