A court in the Philippines has ordered the government to lift a 17-year freeze on a block of shares in the food and drinks group, San Miguel Corp., which the company's chairman, Eduardo Cojuangco, lays claim to.

However, the court has not actually resolved the legal questions over the ownership of the shares which represent about 20% of the company. But the ruling now allows Cojuangco to sell the contested stake. However, the proceeds from the sale, and any cash dividends, must be placed with a government bank and can only be disposed of with court permission until the issue of ownership is finally resolved.

Cojuangco's shares were confiscated by the government in 1986 on suspicion that they were either illegally acquired or represented part of the illicit fortune amassed by deposed Philippine president, Ferdinand Marcos. Cojuangco claims he used his own money and personal loans to buy the shares.

In 1998, a court granted Cojuangco's request to exercise voting rights on the dispted block of shares which allowed him to resume his post as San Miguel's chairman and chief executive after an absence of 12 years.

An official said the Presidential Commission on Good Government (PCGG), which issued the original writs freezing the shares, would seek reconsideration of the court's ruling.