“All we want is justice. Some of us have died already, yet there is still no justice. Until when are we going to wait?”
By ANNE MARXZE D. UMIL
MANILA – Remedios Tecson, 87, is no longer able stand for a long time due to old age. Her back is hunched and she walks with a cane, assisted by her son. But on the commemoration of World War II on Friday, Aug. 14, Tecson did not mind the 31-degree-Celsius heat, and stood as long as she could, as she decried the lack of justice for 70 years.
“All we want is justice. Some of us have died already, yet there is still no justice. Until when are we going to wait?” she spoke in a picket rally in front of the Japanese Embassy in Pasay City.
Tecson stood under the heat of the sun, and raved not only at the Japanese government, which refuses to heed their demands, but also to the Philippine government, which, she said, has not only neglected them, but forgotten them.
Tecson was with the other comfort women who belong to Lila Pilipina, an organization of Filipino survivors of rape and sex slavery by Japanese troops during World War II. They were formed in 1993. They held placards bearing their long time demands, of unequivocal apology, historical inclusion of the realities of Japanese military sexual slavery during World War II, and just compensation.
Rechilda Extremadura, Lila Pilipina executive director, said for the past 70 years, the comfort women, or lolas (grandmothers) as they were often referred to, suffered injustice. She said, previous Japanese officials have issued apologies, but refused to recognize sexual slavery as part of Japanese war crimes.
Extramadura lambasted President Aquino’s neglect of the comfort women’s demands. She said in 2010, Aquino promised to help get the compensation demanded by the comfort women. After five years, the comfort women have not received a single cent from the Aquino government.
She added that Aquino passed up the chance to bring up the issue of Filipino comfort women in his meetings with Japan Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.
“Aquino seems to have forgotten about this promise, and only prioritized military exercises with Japan,” Extramadura said referring to the recently signed Japan-Philippines Joint Declaration and Memorandum on Defense Cooperation and Exchanges, which was opposed by her group and other progressives.
Extramadura said that aside from Abe, Aquino had an opportunity for an audience with the Japanese Emperor who implied an apology over Japan’s wartime atrocities. “But he said nothing, not a single word about comfort women,” Extramadura said. She said Aquino “did not have the balls” to stand up to Japan and demand for an apology.
She added that Japan has always stated that the issue is a matter between states. The Aquino government should have actively pursued the issue, like how Korea and China had done, through bilateral talks with the Japanese prime minister.
“Natutulog sa pansitan si Aquino. He was very vocal when he was still in Congress but now as head of state, he has been silenced by the promise of investments, military support and a few naval patrol boats. Like a modern-day makapili, or the traitors during the Japanese time, he has chosen to side with the foreign invaders,” said Extremadura.
Apology not enough
Narcisa Claveria, 87, called on Abe to once and for all heed their demands. She said no matter how many times the Japan government issues an apology, as long as their demands are not heeded, justice is still not served.
Claveria, who was from Balintog, Abra, was a teenager when was raped by Japanese soldiers. She said as long as she lives, she will not get tired of holding a placard and joining picket rallies in front of the Japanese Embassy.
Even if they survived the war, the painful memories of being comfort women still hound them, said Extremadura. That is why she said, an apology is never enough.
Tecson said as she aged and acquired illnesses, it is only her children who help her with her medicines. The assistance from the government never came despite the pronouncement of Aquino to help the comfort women.
Estelita Dy, 85, who is with her two daughters during the rally, also said she could not remember any help from the government.
Although she received aid from the Asian Women Fund http://awf.or.jp/e2/index.html, she said the money came from donations of Japanese citizens and not the Japanese government. She also expressed disappointment over Aquino’s inability to call for justice for the comfort women. “He did nothing for us,” she told Bulatlat.com in an interview.
Generations calling for justice
Dy’s daughter, Eleonor, said they saw their mother’s determination to get the justice that they deserve. She said she makes time to accompany her mother to Lila Pilipina’s rallies.
“That is our role as their children, as the next generation, to continue to fight for justice. We do not lose hope because we never saw our mother lose hope,” she told Bulatlat.com in an interview.
Only a few lolas of Lila Pilipina are still able to participate in the fight for justice but members of their families have organized PAMANA or Pamilya at Mga Anak ng mga Lolang Nagkakaisa, and Dy is one of them.
Consorcia Dela Cruz, whose mother Gregoria Ibañez died in 1998, said she and her siblings also saw her mother’s eagerness to achieve justice for comfort women. “Even if she did not ask me to fight with her to achieve justice, I still continue their struggle because I know that it is the right thing to do,” Dela Cruz told Bulatlat.com.
Seventy years after the end of World War II, the comfort women’s anguish has not ended, said Extremadura. The quest for justice also continues, she added.
She said that time cannot erase the grave crimes committed against the lolas.
“There is still injustice even if the crime was committed more than half a century ago. As long as the criminal does not recognize its crime and the demands of the victims are still not addressed, there is still no justice,” Extremadura told Bulatlat.com.