MANILA, Philippines — Malacañang has turned down the appeal of a comfort women’s group for President Marcos to take up the cause of World War II sexual slavery victims in his upcoming visit to Japan this week.
In a Palace press conference last Wednesday when details of the President’s Tokyo visit were bared, Department of Foreign Affairs Assistant Secretary for Asian and Pacific affairs Nathaniel Imperial was asked about whether or not Marcos will raise the “sensitive” issue of comfort women or the rape endured by Filipino women and children at the hands of Japanese soldiers during their occupation of the Philippines in the Pacific War.
Imperial said the President is not likely to take up the issue because it is the position of the government that sex slavery victims’ compensation claims have been deemed “settled” in a 1956 reparations deal with Japan.
Marcos will be in Tokyo from Feb. 8-12 to meet Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida and have an audience with Emperor Naruhito, as well as sign seven bilateral agreements and meet business leaders and the Filipino community.
“We don’t expect it to be raised, but the position of the Philippines on this issue is that compensation claims by former comfort women and all war-related claims are considered to be already settled by our 1956 war reparations agreement with Japan,” Imperial said.
“However, the government will not prevent private claims should such actions be pursued by the victims, because this is an atrocious violence against women during the war,” he added.
The statement effectively turned down the appeal of a group fighting for the comfort women’s cause for Marcos to bring the plight of the surviving lolas to Japan.
As they near their twilight age, two survivors – Estelita Dy and Narcisa Claveria – continue to go to the streets fighting for their just recognition.
Claveria and Dy held hands in the protest in front of the Japanese embassy in Pasay city last Tuesday as they recalled their ordeal, expressing hopes the rape that they endured will not be repeated on the future generations of women and children.
Claveria, who is turning 92 in December, said she remains angry at the Japanese government because soldiers robbed her of her right to enjoy her adolescent years.
“I will not stop going to the streets and clamoring for justice. My anger is etched in my mind because the Japanese robbed me of my right to enjoy my womanhood,” said Claveria, who was raped at a garrison in Abra while her father was skinned alive by Japanese soldiers when she was just 13 years old.
“The Japanese government should prepare for me,” she added in Filipino.
Dy, already hard of hearing at 92, had been active on the streets since hundreds of comfort women like her surfaced to share their plight in response to a radio broadcast by beauty queen activist Nelia Sancho for rape victims to come out in 1992.
Dy was raped at a garrison in Negros Occidental when she was 13. She thanked those still supporting their cause even after decades of struggle in calling for Japan to recognize their ordeal.
In a press conference before the protest, Lila Pilipina scored Japan for refusing to include its record of sex slavery in its report to the UN Human Rights Council, which conducted its review of the human rights record of Japan during the fourth cycle of the Universal Period Review.
‘Act now on their behalf’
Lila Pilipina executive director Sharon Cabusao-Silva also called on the President “to act now on behalf of the comfort women, as none of the governments in the past has taken up the issue because Japan remains the number one creditor country to the Philippines.”
The previous Philippine governments have not taken up the cause of comfort women because of Japan’s portfolio of investments and loans to the Philippines through official development assistance (ODA), Cabusao-Silva added.
“The Philippine government has to have the political will to fight for justice for its citizens, who experienced abuse at the hands of foreigners,” she said.
Lila Pilipina also opposed the “militarization” of ODA projects “through the sale of war material” and “transfer of defense technology” for the Philippines, as Japan positions itself in the Southeast Asian region amid threats from China and Russia and as it allies itself with the United States.
“It is heartbreaking that war is brewing once again. It is cruel and unjust that both our lolas are seeing the possibility of yet another war in their lifetime. Women just want to have peace,” Gabriela secretary general Clarice Palce said.
Teresita Ang-See, convenor for FlowersforLolas campaign, added that the Philippine government continues to kowtow to Japan for loans and investments, which led to the removal of a comfort women statue along Roxas Boulevard in Manila in 2018.
The bronze statue of a veiled and blindfolded woman – displaying the strength of the comfort women – was removed before the 51st Annual Meeting of the Asian Development Bank Board of Governors in Manila that year, because Japanese officials had expressed disappointment over the monument.
“Imagine, how many Japanese shrines we have to honor their dead soldiers, who strafed and killed innocent women and children?” Ang-See said, referring to a “kamikaze” shrine in Mabalacat city, Pampanga which memorialized the Japanese fighter pilots.
“And our one and only statue, put up through private efforts and with the National Historical Commission of the Philippines, had to be removed in the middle of the night,” she lamented.
Japanese soldiers raped Filipino women and children in garrisons all over the country during their occupation of the Philippines in the Pacific War.
Lila Pilipina for years has called on Japan to formally apologize and recognize its wartime crimes of sexual slavery. Japan claims it has apologized through its prime ministers and paid atonement money to the victims through the Asian Women’s Fund, which was pooled from Japanese people’s donations.
Cabusao-Silva described the atonement money as a “paltry package” especially now when the lolas still struggle with their medical bills.
The lolas’ continuing fight for justice seven decades after the Pacific war should serve as a reminder that war should not erupt again, the group said.
“War is never the answer to any conflict. Diplomacy is still the best weapon. A handshake is always better than a fistfight. I’m glad our Constitution enshrines the fact that war will never be used as an instrument of national policy,” Ang-See said.