Manila: The surviving family members of late dictator Ferdinand Marcos are still hounded by the hunter of the fabulous golden Buddha in northern Luzon.

The late Rogelio Roxas, a locksmith-turned-treasure hunter, found the golden Buddha in a tunnel near a hospital in Baguio City 35 years ago.

Marcos was believed to have masterminded the seizure of the golden Buddha from Roxas's house in Aurora Hill in Baguio City on April 5, 1971.

There were reports that the golden statuette was allegedly melted into gold bars and became part of the Marcoses' hidden wealth abroad. The statuette was allegedly made of gold and its torso contained pieces of jewellery.

The statuette was believed to be part of the booty of Japanese General Tomoyuki Yamashita during the Second World War.

Last week, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in California ruled that the 9,539 human rights victims under Marcos's rule were entitled to partake of between $35 million to $40 million in compensation being sought by the heirs of Roxas.

Roxas's son Henry and brother Danilo and their foreign partners established the Golden Buddha Corporation (GBC) in 1986, to claim damages from Marcos.

Lawyer Daniel Cathcart of the Magna, Cathcart and MacCarthy law firm based in San Francisco, California, is representing the GBC and Roxas' heirs in the civil suit against the Marcos estate.

"My father suffered much because of the Buddha and I hope justice would soon be done to us," said Henry Roxas.

"As long as our claims [are] finally recognised and we will be compensated properly, we do not mind sharing with the human rights victims," said Danilo Roxas.

However, Judge Antonio Reyes of the Baguio Regional Trial Court had declared in a ruling on May 30, 1996 that the golden Buddha was only a bronze-plated statuette. In fact, it was in the court's custody in Baguio.

"The US court's decision implies that the golden Buddha existed. I don't know how the conclusion was arrived," the judge said.

The statuette in the court's custody was surrendered by police days after Rogelio complained that his Golden Buddha had been seized by Marcos. Roxas died in 1993.

His relatives claimed that the statuette that was returned to his family was a replica. In 1995, Roxas's eldest son Jose petitioned the court to release the statuette to him as a memento of his father's treasure hunting days.

Jose also declared in court that his father never found a Golden Buddha.