DAVAO, the Philippines – A group of Filipinos of Japanese descent are defying old age and rejection in their fight to obtain citizenship. Their Japanese fathers died, went home or otherwise disappeared before or during World War II, and the claimants often have only vague memories of them.
Pacita Torres from the southern Philippine province of Davao Occidental on Mindanao Island is now 84 years old. More than two decades have passed since she and her two siblings sought to establish links with their father, whom they identify from memory as “Mashimura Maramoto.”
They were among 10 Japanese descendants, aged from 70 to 79, who recently met with officials of the Philippine Nikkei-jin Legal Support Center, the Nippon Foundation, and, for the first time, the Japanese Embassy in Manila.
The claimants’ earlier petitions to Japanese courts to acquire citizenship were denied.
Norihiro Inomata of the legal support center said the meeting aimed to collect new information before an appeal is filed.
“For them, gaining Japanese nationality is evidence that their father actually lived. Identity matters a lot to them,” Inomata said.
Inomata’s center was established in 2003 as a “direct outcome” of the centennial anniversary of Japanese migration to the Philippines, he said. Recognizing the need to support the children of prewar Japanese migrants to the Philippines, whose lives and identities were disrupted by the war, the center started filing petitions before family courts in Japan in 2004.
It estimates there were around 3,000 second-generation Japanese-Filipino descendants, of whom nearly 900 were not registered with the Japanese government due to the wartime turmoil. Most of their fathers arrived in the Philippines before WWII and married local women.
Inomata said the center has filed 235 petitions, of which 172 earned approval and 29 were rejected, including the 10 the center intends to appeal.
Nine other cases are still being heard, while the remaining 25 have been withdrawn, mainly because the petitioners have died.
In an interview, Torres said she will endure the long, hard process of acquiring her father’s nationality just to see her relatives in Japan.
“I have not lost hope. I would be very happy to see my father’s home place and meet our relatives there. My father must have some siblings there,” said Torres, whose petition was formally filed last October but denied in February.
Joining her in the petition are her younger siblings, Roque Go, 80, and Estodi Go, who is 77.
The Maramotos can only rely on their testimonies and a family portrait taken in 1936 to prove their claim of having a Japanese father.
Torres had four siblings, but two are now dead. She said their father arrived in Davao at a time unknown to them, and married their mother, a member of the local B’laan tribe. He worked as a carpenter and had a few Japanese friends in their province.
She has few memories of her father, as she was only 8 years old when he died in an accident in 1940. Torres recalled that her father would speak the B’laan language at home, the Cebuano language when he was with neighbors, and Japanese with his Japanese friends.
In the interview, she said her “Papa” did not teach them the Japanese language, nor did he introduce Japanese customs at home.
The youngest sibling, Estodi, became emotional as he clutched the Maramoto family picture.
“I am appealing for help because I did not see my father myself,” he said.
“I am crying now because I only have this photo of him, and this was the only place where I could see him. So I want to know where my father came from in Japan, and I am also asking for help so I can see our relatives there.
“I want to be recognized as a Japanese citizen because my father was Japanese and his blood flows through me,” he said.
Inocencia Aglang, 71, from Davao del Sur province, who identified her father as a man named Arakaki, shares the fighting spirit of the Maramoto siblings, even though she thought the dismissal of her petition was the end of the road.
“I have long applied as a Japanese descendant. So while I am still physically strong, I want to go see my father’s homeland,” said Aglang, who started tracing her father’s roots in 1985. Aglang’s petition has already been rejected twice — first in February 2014, and again in June 2015.
The other petitioners include siblings Adela Miones, 79, Rosendo Abe, 76, and Dolina Benito, 71, from Davao City; Oligario Nagata, 70, also from Davao City; Melanio Austerio, 74, from Compostela Valley province; and Lemuel Yoshimura, 73, from South Cotabato province, all on Mindanao.
Almost all second-generation Japanese-Filipino descendants documented by Inomata’s center lived difficult lives after being left behind by their fathers, many of them failing to complete their studies and enduring discrimination because of anti-Japanese sentiment after the war.
The postwar animosity against anyone associated with the Japanese prompted many descendants to hide their Japanese identities while growing up. Many turned out later to be stateless nationals.
Establishing their Japanese citizenship would not only complete their identity but also offer them and their families better economic opportunities as their children and grandchildren could then work in Japan.
Inomata said the recent interview could prove to be more credible when submitted to the court, as it has the backing of a representative of the Japanese government through an embassy official.
He also said when descendants met Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko last January in Manila it boosted the pride of people who believe they have Japanese roots.