MANILA – The Philippines’ highest tribunal ended a legal battle by a group of Filipino wartime sex slaves on Tuesday to compel the country’s government to support their demand for an apology and compensation from the Japanese government before international tribunals.
Theodore Te, a spokesman for the Supreme Court, said the justices voted in session to deny the motion for reconsideration filed by members of the Malaya Lolas (Free Grandmothers) organization after the court issued the same ruling in 2010.
Te said the decision resolved the issue with finality.
The case was filed in March 2004 by more than 70 members of the Malaya Lolas group, specifically demanding that the Supreme Court declare certain ranking government officials at that time to have committed abuse of discretion for refusing to espouse the group’s claims for crimes against humanity.
The petitioners said the Philippine government violated its legal obligation to pursue crimes against humanity when it did not back their complaints against Japan before the International Court of Justice and other international courts.
They also said the Philippine government’s acceptance of apologies by Japan, as well as monetary payment from the Asian Women’s Fund, which was financed by the Japanese government, were contrary to international law.
In their lawsuit, they claimed the general waiver of claims by the Philippine government in the peace treaty with Japan in 1951 is void.
The government argued that taking up the petitioners’ cause would be inimical to the country’s foreign policy interests and could disrupt its relations with Japan.
In barring the group’s petition in 2010, the Supreme Court said that while it sympathized with their cause, the issue of whether the Philippine government should espouse claims of its nationals against a foreign government is a diplomatic matter that must be addressed by the executive branch of government and not the courts.
“It’s sad,” Harry Roque, the group’s lawyer, said after the ruling. “It makes us the only country that does not prohibit rape absolutely in times of armed conflict.”
The Malaya Lolas is a group of “comfort women,” a Japanese euphemism for wartime sex slaves, who are mostly based in Pampanga province north of Manila.
Organized in 1997, the group then had about 90 members. But due to deaths over the years, the group’s numbers have dwindled to around 30.
Another group of Filipino sex slaves, the Lila Pilipina (League for Filipino Grandmothers), based across a larger area of the country. More than 90 of their original 174 members are still alive.
An estimated 1,000 Filipino women are believed to have been sexually abused by Japanese soldiers during their World War II occupation.
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