‘I will continue to be brave’: Surviving WWII Filipino ‘comfort women’ fight for recognition, apology

  • The remaining Filipino women who were forced into sexual slavery by Imperial Japan during World War II are planning to submit a petition to newly elected members of the Philippine government.
  • This petition will demand the Philippines’ next administration to “grant recognition to the [survivors’] official plight.”
  • These survivors, who are euphemistically called “comfort women,” were abducted and coerced into sexual slavery for the gratification of military personnel during the Japanese occupation of the Philippines from 1942 to 1945.
  • Members of Lila Pilipina (League of Philippine Lolas), an organization founded in 1994 by surviving comfort women and their supporters, are still fighting for a formal apology from Japan, as well as an official position from the Philippine government that condemns the Imperial Japanese Army’s actions.

The remaining Filipino survivors who were forced into sexual slavery by Imperial Japan during World War II are planning to submit a petition for justice to be served.

The survivors, who are euphemistically called “comfort women,” were abducted and coerced into sexual slavery for the gratification of military personnel during the Japanese occupation of the Philippines from 1942 to 1945.

Members of Lila Pilipina (League of Philippine Lolas), an organization founded in 1994 by surviving comfort women and their supporters, discussed their demands for justice during a media forum at the Commission of Human Rights in Quezon City, Philippines, on March 23.

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“Most of them are in their nineties, in their twilight years. Most of them have varying medical conditions and are bedridden. Only a few of them are still physically active,” Sharon Silva, the executive director of Lila Pilipina, said. “Despite these conditions, if you ask them, they are still very committed to the fight for justice. The only thing that stopped them from joining activities like this one is the restrictions brought by COVID-19.” 

Historians estimate that around 200,000 women became victims in the countries occupied by Japan during World War II, including Korea, Myanmar, Vietnam, Thailand, Singapore, Taiwan and Indonesia. 

In the Philippines, it is estimated that more than 1,000 Filipino females – some as young as 8 years old – became comfort women. Around 40 to 50 of them are reportedly still alive.

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Lila Pilipina continues to fight, demanding the Philippine government for proper documentation and inclusion in the country’s official recorded history, as well as a formal apology from Japan and an official position from the Philippine government that condemns the Imperial Japanese Army’s actions.

“I am nearing the end of my days, but I will continue to be brave so we can get the justice we have been waiting for,” survivor Estelita Dy said at a forum last month. “We have been fighting for a long time, but we have yet to get justice. Maybe this time, we might get it.”

Rosa Henson, also known as “Lola Rosa,” came forward with her survival story in 1992, which then prompted more survivors to share their stories.

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Lila Pilipina started gathering signatures last month for a petition they plan on submitting to the Philippines’ next administration to “grant recognition to the official plight of Filipino comfort women.” 

“Past and current Philippine presidents have refused to fulfill this responsibility,” the petition states. “Japanese development assistance, or ODA has been the main impediment to the fulfillment of the executive department’s responsibility of demanding atonement for this historical injustice.”

“The issue of the Filipino comfort women as we have noted in the past 30 years as historians is an issue of historical justice, an issue of historical recognition,” Francis Gealogo, a Filipino historian and professor at Ateneo de Manila University, said. “Negative historical revisionism is amplified by many layers of distortion. Distortions in terms of denial of their existence in history.”

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“We should include the issue of the quest for justice by the lolas [grandmothers], by the Filipino victims of Japanese military sexual slavery as part and parcel of this electoral campaign against historical revisionism,” he added.

While Japan’s former Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi wrote an apology letter to all comfort women in 2001, Lila Filipina does not consider it a formal apology from the Japanese government.

A statue dedicated to comfort women was unveiled in Manila in December 2017, but it was later unceremoniously removed by the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) in April 2018.

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President Rodrigo Duterte reportedly supported the statue’s removal since he did not want it to “insult” Japan, which is the country’s largest source of foreign aid. 

“We really want to educate people about this, create awareness and hopefully, get justice for these women because they are victims of war,” Liza Gino, a Filipino advocate and the author of the historical fiction novel “Imelda’s Secret,” told ABS-CBN News.

“Filipino comfort women are not part of our written history, could you believe that?” she continued. “The Japanese nation is saying that, ‘We hired prostitutes. They were not forced into sexual slavery,’ but would you really hire an 8-year-old?”

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Featured Image via Arirang News

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