PRESIDENT Rodrigo Duterte has said the family of former dictator Ferdinand Marcos has indicated a willingness to return an unspecified amount of money and “a few gold bars” to help ease the government’s expected budget deficit.

Duterte said he was considering designating three people, including a former Supreme Court chief justice, to negotiate with the Marcoses over the return of the assets.

The president said the Marcoses’ intention was relayed by a family spokesman, and indicated the Marcoses say the assets to be returned had not been stolen as alleged by political opponents.

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“I will accept the explanation, whether or not it is true,” Duterte said in a speech to newly appointed officials.

The Marcoses are “ready to open and bring back [assets] including a few gold bars”, Duterte quoted the family spokesman as saying. “It’s not that big, it’s not Fort Knox, it’s just a few but they said they’ll return.”

There was no immediate reaction from the family, including Marcos’s wife Imelda, who is a member of the House of Representatives.

Marcos was ousted in a 1986 “people power” revolt and died in exile in Hawaii three years later without admitting any wrongdoing, including accusations that he and his family amassed billions while he was in power.

Marcos placed the Philippines under martial rule in 1972, a year before his term was to expire. He padlocked Congress, ordered the arrest of political rivals and left-wing activists and ruled by decree.

A Hawaii court found Marcos liable for human rights violations and awarded 2 billion dollars from his estate to compensate more than 9000 Filipinos who filed a lawsuit against him for torture, incarceration, extrajudicial killings and disappearances.

Although he rose to power last year on a promise to combat widespread crime and corruption, Duterte has acknowledged that one of Marcos’s daughters, a provincial governor, backed his presidential candidacy.

The president has noted that his late father, a local politician, was a trusted cabinet member for Marcos.

Duterte approved the burial of the long-dead Marcos at the country’s Heroes’ Cemetery, reserved for former presidents, soldiers and national artists, in a secrecy-shrouded ceremony last year, sparking protests and shocking many human rights victims and democracy advocates who still celebrate Marcos’s removal annually.

Burying someone accused of massive rights violations and plunder at the cemetery, which is reserved for former presidents, soldiers and national artists, has long been an emotional and divisive issue.

Duterte argued that it was Marcos’s right as a president and soldier to be buried at the cemetery, taking a political risk in a country where democracy advocates still celebrate Marcos’s removal each year.