By RAYMUND VILLANUEVA
MANILA — Women’s group Gabriela strongly condemned the removal of the comfort woman statue along Roxas Boulevard in Manila Friday, saying the move is a desecration of Filipino women’s dignity.
Blaming Japan and the Rodrigo Duterte government for the statue’s removal, the group said the move casts a foul insult on hundreds of victims of sex slavery during the Japanese Imperial Army’s occupation of the Philippines in World War II.
Despite opposition from women’s rights advocates, historians and other sectors, “Japan once again succeeded in imposing its revisionist take on WW II on puppet regimes like the Duterte regime,” Gabriela in a statement said.
Groups and personalities are still trying to find out who ordered the removal, seeking explanations from both the Department of Public Works and Highways and the City Government of Manila.
Lawyer Dennis Gorecho, a volunteer during the statue’s erection and unveiling near Manila Bay’s breakwater, said the statue was installed with the blessings of the National Historical Institute and should be considered a historical landmark and monument protected under Republic Act No. 10066, otherwise known as the National Cultural Heritage Act of 2009.
The law protects the statue against prohibited acts such as intentional destruction, demolition, mutilation, damage, modification, and alteration, Gorecho explained.
Gorecho added construction and real estate development in any national shrine, monument, landmark and other historic edifices and structures, declared, classified, and marked by the National Historical Institute as such, are prohibited without the prior written permission from the National Historical Commission of the Philippines (NHCP).
This includes the designated security or buffer zone, extending five meters from the visible perimeter of the monument or site.
An image posted on Gorecho’s Facebook account however showed a backhoe machine operating near the statue. In the lower part of the image, the statue could no longer be seen.
Lila Pilipina, the organization of women sexually enslaved by the Japanese Imperial Army, Tulay Foundation, a group whose members belong to Manila’s Chinese-Filipino community victimized by Japanese atrocities during the war, and other groups and individuals spearheaded the construction and installation of the statue.
It was unveiled last December 8 with NHCP executive director Ludovico Badoy in attendance, along with Gabriela, and others groups and personalities.
Similar “comfort women” statues were earlier erected in Korea, Australia, Canada, Germany, San Francisco and New Jersey, USA.
“The comfort woman statue supposedly serves as a reminder to future generations of Japan’s atrocities and abuses against Filipino women during the Second World War, and women’s historical victimization in times of wars of aggression,” Gabriela said.
Japan, however vigorously protested the erection of the statue with the Duterte government, threatening diplomatic and economic sanctions.
Japan has refused to acknowledge it sanctioned the sexual enslavement of hundreds of thousands of women during its rampage across the region during the war.
Japanese Minister of Internal Affairs and Communications Seiko Noda reportedly expressed Tokyo’s disappointment over the erection of the statue along Roxas Boulevard during her courtesy call on Duterte last January 16 in Malacañan.
Gabriela blamed the Duterte government for caving in to Japan.
“[I]t is highly despicable that the Duterte government, like a thief in the night, removed the comfort woman statue in Manila. What has been left of the marker will be a stark reminder of how the Duterte regime pimped the dignity of women and the Filipino nation in exchange for multi-billion Japanese loans and technical assistance,” Gabriela said.
Despite the statue’s removal, Gabriela said it will vigorously pursue efforts to expose Japan’s sex slavery in the country and other parts of the globe.