When she emerged in public last week, Imelda Marcos wept and declared herself destitute. But the former first lady of the Philippines can keep a $310 million cache of jewelry confiscated from her 23 years ago, the government in Manila said Monday.

The order, which provoked fury among ordinary Filipinos but may help Marcos rebuild her notoriously excessive shoe collection, was issued because the government forgot to officially lay claim to the jewels.

Marcos remains the legitimate owner, said Justice Secretary Raul Gonzalez, and there is no proof that the trinkets were unlawfully obtained.

Through a spokesperson, Marcos said that much of the jewelry had been intended to decorate religious images "like tiaras for the Blessed Virgin Mary."

Human rights lawyers, who are still pursuing thousands of claims arising from the Marcos family’s long rule in the Philippines, said that they would try to block the return of the jewels.

As well as providing a windfall for the "steel butterfly" of the Philippines as Marcos nears her 80th birthday, the order by the Justice Ministry deals a humiliating blow to the country’s anti-corruption agency.

The jewelry was among an array of possessions seized in 1986 when her husband, Ferdinand Marcos, was deposed in a coup and the family fled from the opulent Malacanang presidential palace. The expensive clothes and accessories collected the first lady became emblematic of dictatorship at its most rapacious.

Click here for more on this story from the Times of London.