Discomfort of comfort women: An outcry for justice

93 years old, Estrelita sitting in the middle. (Photo from Lila Pilipina Facebook page)


MANILA — Women’s group Lila Pilipina denounced the Philippine-Japan military pact as the Japanese failed to acknowledge their war crimes against Filipinos and comfort women.

“They are again talking about war measures with the Philippine government for mutual access of the Japanese troops that will openly do their wrongdoings like during World War II in our archipelago,” Clydelle Jorgio, a volunteer of Lila Pilipina, said in a Zoom interview.

Read: Proposed military pact with Japan to intensify conflict in West PH Sea, groups say

Lila Pilipina is an organization of Filipino women who were made as sex slaves during the Japanese occupation. Similar to South Korea’s halmoni which translates to grandmother, Lola is a Tagalog term widely used in local context to collectively call Filipina comfort women.

At the November 4 Lila Pilipina’s press conference, victims reiterated their call, “No to War! Justice for Filipino Comfort Women”. The surviving victims were disappointed that Japan’s war crimes and sex slavery were disregarded. They pleaded for Japan to admit atrocities, issue a public apology, and provide reparation.

Sharon Silva, executive director of Lila Pilipina, pointed out that Japan made no reparation for its victims since 1945 until now.

Estrelita Dy, 93 years old, is apprehensive about any defense cooperation between Japan and the Philippines, fearing that history may repeat itself if President Marcos Jr. pays no heed to this issue. She said that most of them have not healed from the economic, mental, and psychological effects of the dreadful past.

Read: Filipino comfort women decry decades-long injustice

Historical exclusion

During World War II, Estrelita and other women were forced to work under the Japanese Imperial Army as servants in the day and sex slaves at night.

During the day, Estrelita said they wash the clothes of Japanese soldiers and other domestic chores. At night, they were raped. Most of the victims were abducted and moved to a “comfort station” where their nightmare began.

“It was an organized rape,” Dr. Ricardo Jose of the Third World Studies Center said in a 2015 I-Witness episode on comfort women.

According to Lila Pilipina, there are 174 documented Filipina comfort women recorded since 1992. Rights groups and the international community continue to seek historical inclusion for the comfort women, but justice remains elusive.

Threats of Ph-Japan military deal

Various sectoral organizations have incessantly brought the call against the military alliance between the Philippines and Japan. Lila Pilipina is one of those in the forefront of this fight.

Photo from Lila Pilipina Facebook page

Youth volunteers Jonna Zapanta and Clydelle Jorgio warned that establishing Japan’s military bases in the country would not only completely ignore the ceaseless pleas of the victims of Japanese atrocities during World War II and their families but would victimize another generation of Filipino women and children.

“This gives us the idea that it is a shadow of the Second World War were Japanese troops could freely establish their military force in our country,” Jorgio said.

“This is a huge insult to our lolas. And that’s what they (lolas) are also thinking, that what happened before may repeat,” Jorgio explained.

Lila Pilipina, in a statement, decried the “continued denial of support to the legal and political claims of Filipino women victims of Japanese military sexual violence and sex slavery.”

Acknowledging the painful history

29-year old Zapanta shared how she discovered that she was a direct descendant of one of the lolas who fell victim to the sexual violence committed by the Japanese soldiers.

“It surprised me to discover that I was part of the generational trauma, which I have not been aware of for the past 20 years of my life.”

Zapanta joined the organization in 2018, describing herself as a volunteer “not fully immersed in the history of the Lolas.” With the aid of compiled documents highlighting the survivors’ grueling experiences, Zapanta felt the irony of insensibility, “the irony of you as a child not being aware that your ancestor is a victim [of sexual atrocities] during the Japanese regime.”

This unawareness is shared by other young Filipinos who were not informed about the wartime Philippine history.

For this, Filipino activists and various advocacy groups continue to pursue the historical inclusion of ‘comfort women,’ especially in academic discussions. With only two to three sentences about the sexual slavery committed by the Japanese Imperial Army forces during the Second World War, Lila Pilipina calls for the memorialization of the sacrifice of comfort women, apt reparation, and appropriate narration of the lolas’ haunting past in educational textbooks through legislative lobbying.

As part of the crusade to defend women’s rights and ensure that Filipinos are fundamentally equipped with relevant knowledge of the past, Gabriela Women’s Party-list Rep. Arlene Brosas filed a bill that seeks to declare August 14 of each year as a National Day to Memorialize ‘Comfort Women.’

The bill’s highlight is the collaborative work among the National Historical Commission of the Philippines (NHCP), the Philippine Commission on Women (PCW), the Commission on Human Rights (CHR), and various pro-women advocacy groups to elevate the level of awareness of the people regarding the sufferings of comfort women under Japan colonization.

The lolas are dying but women-rights advocacy groups, alongside the victims’ families and volunteers, are committed to pursue long-overdue justice. (RTS, RVO) (https://www.bulatlat.org)

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