GENEVA, DEC. 27 -- Switzerland's highest court has decided that about $330 million placed in Swiss bank accounts by the family of former Philippine president Ferdinand Marcos should be returned to the Manila government.

Swiss Justice Ministry spokesman Joerg Kistler said the Federal Court, in a decision published today, rejected an appeal from the Marcos family against the transfer. But it stipulated that before the money can be sent back a Philippine court must order its confiscation.

The Swiss court gave Philippine authorities one year to open proceedings on the return of the funds -- failing which Switzerland would unblock the accounts.

"It's a very important step toward the restitution of the funds," Kistler said. "The ball is now in the Philippines' court."

The government of Philippine President Corazon Aquino claims that Marcos hid public money in private accounts in Switzerland and elsewhere before he was overthrown in February 1986. Marcos died in 1989. The Manila government has had to work its way through Swiss courts to try to get the money back.

The latest ruling affects only about $330 million held in Zurich and Fribourg, but the precedent is expected to apply to other funds believed to be held in Geneva, Vaud and Lucerne.