Filipinos visit lawmakers in quest for citizenship

by Akemi Nakamura

Sixteen Filipinos whose fathers or husbands were Japanese men who had moved to the Philippines before and during the war asked lawmakers Tuesday in Tokyo for help obtaining Japanese citizenship.

The group consists of 15 second-generation Japanese living in the Philippines and a woman who lost her Japanese husband during the war. The woman is taking part in the one-week trip on behalf of her disabled daughter.

“I came here to seek help from you,” said Felicidad Tanji Aguilar, 82, during a meeting with six Diet members who are part of a larger group of about 50 working on the problem of war-displaced Filipinos.

Aguilar’s father moved to the Philippines before the war and ran a store selling miscellaneous goods before marrying her mother in 1923. He died of dysentery in 1931.

Some 30,000 Japanese, mostly men, emigrated to the Philippines before the war to become farmers or construction workers. Many married Filipino women and either died there or were conscripted by the Japanese military during the war and returned to Japan after it was defeated in 1945.

People abandoned by such men in the Philippines were subjected to discrimination caused by anti-Japanese sentiment.

To help the Filipinos find their relatives in Japan, the Nippon Foundation and the nonprofit group Philippine Nikkei-jin Legal Support Center Inc. launched a program in 2006 to bring Filipinos to Japan.

The Filipinos are asking that the government grant them Japanese citizenship. So far, seven of them have managed to obtain Japanese nationality.

According to the groups, an estimated 160 Filipinos claim they are sons or daughters of Japanese fathers.

During the trip, the visitors will be interviewed by Tokyo Family Court officials as part of the process of seeking Japanese nationality.

Hiroyuki Kawai, a lawyer assisting the Filipinos, said it is difficult for them to get Japanese nationality because they can’t find documents proving they had Japanese fathers or they have difficulties locating their relatives in Japan.