Remembering Richie Extremadura and the comfort women’s undying call for justice

Graphics by Dominic Gutoman/Bulatlat


MANILA – For the late Richelda “Richie” Extremadura, her aspiration is to have no more comfort women. She may have died three months ago but she needs to be remembered as the world marks International Women Human Rights Defenders Day on November 29.

Richie, former national coordinator of Lila Pilipina, passed away on August 25 due to anemia and complications from diabetes. Her leadership in Lila Pilipina pushed forward the fight of the comfort women movement for decades in the Philippines. Amid disinformation and wars of aggression, her legacy is worth remembering.

Born in Bicol, she was one of the staunch activists who opposed the Marcos administration and later became one of the women political prisoners at that time.

It was the late Nelia Sancho, among the co-founders of women’s group Gabriela, who encouraged Ritchie to take the lead of Lila Pilipina, an organization that seeks justice and accountability for the comfort women during the time of the Japanese occupation. During this time, she spearheaded fact finding teams that verified reports and interviewed comfort women.

“You can really see her determination in everything she did,” Sharon Cabusao-Silva, the current national coordinator of Lila Pilipina, said.

“I don’t expect justice anymore, but putting my story out there of what I hid for 15 years, and the youth listening, it’s already a mission I’ve accomplished,” these are what the lolas of Lila Pilipina said as Cabusao-Silva retold the stories of the lolas under Richie’s care.

Pressed for Time

The comfort women struggle, particularly in connecting with the survivors and the continuing comfort women research in the Philippines, was a race for time. Richie and Lila Pilipina are aware that the comfort women are dying one by one due to old age.

Cabusao-Silva said there was a time when a lola (grandmother) was so hesitant to tell her story but Richie was eager to build a connection with the survivor while respecting her feelings. She eventually earned the trust of the comfort woman and later told her plight during the Japanese occupation.

Eventually, more comfort women stepped out of the shadows and told the people of their sufferings. About 30 to 40 of them, despite their old age, would join anti-imperialist campaigns. In one protest action, Ranjo-Libang remembered Richie scolded the police for shoving and disrespecting the lolas.

“Even if the lolas are older at that time, they are still skillfully led by Richie, especially in taking one political position of their oppression that is still happening in modern times – the effects of militarism and military sexual violence on women,” Cabusao-Silva said.

Apart from documenting their cases, Ritche also sought support for the comfort women.

“Richie continuously consolidated the international support to the lolas, particularly in lobbying work in Japan and reaching organizations in Japan to support the comfort women campaign for justice.” Cabusao-Silva said.

On April 2, 1993, eighteen Filipino comfort women filed a lawsuit at the Tokyo District Court in Japan to seek justice on behalf of all Filipino comfort women survivors and the comfort women system that violated the Hague Convention of 1907 and other international humanitarian laws.

Then Prime Minister Kiichi Miyazawa apologized for the comfort women system which gave rise to comfort women stations in the Philippines but critics said the Japanese government’s remorse was not sincere. In 1995, the government denied participation in setting up the comfort women stations. While the Japanese government created an Asian Women’s Fund as an incentive to the lolas, the funds came from private donations. Up to now, Filipino comfort women survivors have not received any formal and genuine compensation from the Japanese government.

For her part, Gert Ranjo-Libang, chairperson of GABRIELA, stressed that Richie was so hardworking that “her hands could not stop moving.” She would always be doing something with her hands like crochet or paper origami.

A fight against disinformation

Ranjo-Libang and Cabusao-Silva both said that it is a must to remember the life that Ritche lived given the prevalence of disinformation and historical distortion.

“The history education is very poor and very limited, especially in recent years when we shifted to K-12,” Cabusao-Silva said, adding that the preservation of history must include the comfort women struggle.

To achieve this objective, Richie helped establish “Friends of Lola,” which consists of students, historians and professors who would conduct research and lead campaigns of the comfort women.

One of its biggest legacies of Richie was building Lola’s House, a safe space for comfort women survivors to rest and stay. Through the years, Lola’s House became not only a haven for the lolas but also a research facility and museum of all the archives and data found in the Filipino comfort women struggle history. Now that Richie has passed away, her colleagues continue to take care of the house and urge more people, especially the youth, to visit.

“Difficulty will be public support unlike before when the lolas are very visible and symbols that are easily seen and to rally support. Today, what we do is to remember and document the history of it,” Cabusao-Silva said.

Richie and Ranjo-Libang would write stories in Piglas Diwa, a magazine that features the stories of comfort women and in-depth analysis on related social issues.

Under a Marcos Jr administration, bridging the stories of the comfort women survivors and the young women of today is what Lila Pilipina pushes forward, especially since threats of aggression have a huge factor in controlling society. Richie’s legacy PAMANA will be the continuing organization that not only organizes the relatives of comfort women and the youth but will remain critical in every administration toward any threat and repression to their advocacy.

During the Duterte’s administration, the comfort woman statue that was supposed to be installed in Roxas Boulevard was removed by the City Government of Manila due to pressures from the Japanese government. By then, more cases of removal of comfort woman statues were formally declared missing by the Lila Pilipina and Flowers for Lolas Campaign, an alliance of supporters of the campaign.

“The most challenging now is the atmosphere that the Marcoses won and that not only disinformation was spreading, but also the distortion of history amid pandemic,” Cabusao-Silva said, stressing how it is now harder to organize events for the lolas. These events would have served as not only recreational activities for the lolas but information drives in raising discourse on the comfort women issue.

Nevertheless, Richie’s tireless organizing work became an inspiration to pursue the campaign. Even in the social distancing setup, Lila Pilipina continues to digitize the archives and to make information more accessible. These movements, amid the gradual ease of social distancing, would garner more support from the youth in the comfort women campaign. The youth will be a big help in fighting what the current Marcos Jr. administration tolerates that oppresses the young women of today. (DAA, JJE, RVO) (

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