MANILA – A number of Filipino women who were forced into Japanese military brothels during World War II have challenged Philippine President Benigno Aquino to present their plight before Emperor Akihito during his visit to the country this week.
The aging women, who are part of the Lila Pilipina (League of Filipino Women) organization, which originally comprised 174 “comfort women,” Japan’s euphemism for the sex slaves, said Friday in a news forum in the Manila suburb Quezon City that the Emperor’s visit and meeting with Aquino is a good opportunity to remind Japan of the unresolved issue regarding the Filipino victims.
“My message for our president is that the abuses against us must be addressed,” an emotional Narcisa Claveria, 85, said. “We have yet to receive real justice. We were so young, but a lot was already taken from us. We lost our dignity. We weren’t able to go to school. We suffered under the Japanese soldiers.”
Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko will visit the Philippines from Tuesday to Saturday as part of the celebrations to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations after World War II. Aquino will accept the royal couple at the presidential palace on Jan. 27.
Ricardo Jose, a history professor at the University of the Philippines who has extensively studied relations between Japan and the Philippines, said during the same forum that the comfort women issue “is a case of historical wrong that has not yet been righted.”
“As a historian, my perspective is based on verified facts, documents and witnesses. We have a lot of evidence to show this,” he said. “What makes the comfort women issue particularly striking is that this is not just a case of rape. This is a case of sexual slavery. And where else in the world has this happened on an organized scale?” he went on to ask.
While several Japanese leaders and officials have apologized for atrocities perpetrated by Japan during the war, including those against women, the Filipino comfort women do not consider the apologies to be official.
The surviving women, who are now in their 80s, regard the money distributed to them under the semi-governmental Asian Women’s Fund, which was started in the mid-1990s, as merely “atonement” payments. Thus, they continue to ask for what they call “just compensation” from the Japanese government.
Their final demand of Japan is that it includes in its historical accounts, such as school textbooks, the history surrounding the women who were forced to work in military brothels in order to educate present and future generations.
The women have lamented over Tokyo’s disregard of their pleas, as well as the lack of support they have received from the Philippine government. Their frustration grew after the South Korean government successfully stuck a deal with Japan in December to resolve the issue of the South Korean comfort women. The Korean Peninsula was under Japanese colonial rule from 1910 to 1945.
“I want to see in this visit the (Philippine and Japanese) governments deal with each other as equals actually, and look at each other not as one power superior to the other,” Jose said. “And in doing this, by looking at past relations and seeing things that were not yet righted, what wrongs are still to be corrected.
“So, this means the comfort women (issue) will have to be confronted, and there are also other issues related to the war — still, civilian victims have not been fully compensated, they have not been recognized,” he added.
The Lila Pilipina, whose surviving members number only 70 now, and of whom only eight are physically able to move around, will hold a demonstration on the morning of Jan. 27 near the presidential palace to air its grievances. Its members will be joined by supporters, including those from the Gabriela women’s group.
Another group of comfort women, the Malaya Lolas (Free Grandmothers), whose original membership was around 90 and has since fallen to 33, also plans to write the Emperor a letter.
“Hopefully, by Jan. 27, Aquino will remember that he has a mother, grandmothers, so that he must represent the cause of the Filipino comfort women to Emperor Akihito,” said Rechilda Extremadura, executive director of Lila Pilipina.
“Emperor Akihito, although he is not involved in the policies of his country, is a very influential man. He could influence decisions. He could persuade the Japanese people to push the Japanese government to give out justice that is true — justice with historical truth, not a bogus justice,” she added.