MANILA – Eight former Filipino “comfort women” who claim they were sexually abused by Imperial Japanese soldiers during the war held a rally in front of the Japanese Embassy in Manila on Friday to call for help from visiting Emperor Akihito.
“To the visiting Emperor, we are already old, our bodies are weak and many of us have died already. We call on you to grant us compensation,” said Isabelita Vinuya, 84, president of the Malaya Lolas (Free Grandmothers), a group of former comfort women, Japan’s euphemism for the girls and women who were forced into military brothels during the war.
The Emperor and Empress Michiko are in the Philippines for a five-day visit through Saturday to mark the 60th anniversary of the normalization of relations between the two countries.
When the eight Malaya Lolas members, all in their 80s, staged their rally, the Imperial Couple were attending a ceremony at a memorial for the Japanese war dead in Laguna province, south of Manila.
The women lit candles in remembrance of fellow victims who have already passed away without securing justice from the Japanese government.
“We also call on (Philippine) President Benigno Aquino to support us,” Vinuya said.
“The comfort women of South Korea were backed by their government. So, if we also get support from government, then we might also get compensation from the Japanese government,” Vinuya said, in apparent reference to an agreement reached late last year between Japan and South Korea on the sensitive issue.
On Dec. 28, the Japanese and South Korean governments reached an agreement in which Japan offered to provide ¥1 billion (about $8.3 million) for a new South Korean foundation aimed at helping its aging former comfort women.
The Malaya Lolas, whose original membership of 90 when it was formed in 1997, has dwindled to 33 due to deaths and is separate from Lila Pilipina (the League for Filipino Grandmothers), a comfort women advocacy.
The latter documented 174 other women who were forced to work in Japanese military brothels during the war, and only 70 of them remain alive.
The Malaya Lolas are all from Mapaniqui village in Pampanga province, north of Manila, which was raided by Japanese soldiers in November 1944.
They are seeking justice not only for sexual abuse but also for the massacre of men in their village and the destruction of their properties perpetrated by Japanese soldiers.
They said the raid was based on suspicion that Mapaniqui was a haven for anti-Japanese guerrillas during the 1942 to 1945 Japanese occupation of the Philippines.
Harry Roque, the lawyer of Malaya Lolas, expressed disappointment over Aquino’s failure to bring up the plight of the comfort women during his formal meeting with the Emperor on Wednesday.
“Because Aquino abandoned the comfort women, these Filipino victims will never get some remedy. What South Korea achieved shows what government action can do,” he said, adding that the Malaya Lolas will keep trying to seek help instead from the United Nations.
Philippine Ambassador to Japan Manuel Lopez said in an interview Thursday in Manila that there are no immediate plans for the Philippine government to work on the demands of the Filipino comfort women toward the Japanese government.
“I think there is an official stand already of the government on this. And I think, we have to stick to that,” Lopez said.
The Filipino comfort women are demanding an official apology and compensation from the Japanese government and seeking the inclusion of wartime sexual abuse involving the Japanese military in historical accounts and textbooks.