By Perfecto T. Raymundo, Jr.

QUEZON CITY – Women’s groups are seeking for justice for Filipino “comfort women” who were victims of rape, tortures and other atrocities during the Japanese occupation.

In a press conference during the Pandesal Forum in Kamuning Bakery in Quezon City on Thursday (Dec. 7), Lila Ramos Shahani, an expert of International Scientific Committee for the Interpretation and Presentation of Cultural Heritage Sites, said that when the statue of the comfort women was taken down it was a big insult against comfort women.

Shahani, a former Assistant Secretary of the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) from 2010 to 2019, added that, for her it was the beginning of the end for “comfort women”.

A university lecturer and author of recent books on Filipino comfort women, she noted that “In government, you cannot do anything without the support of the Congress.”

Shahani wrote the politics of erasure (Asia Pacific Journal: Japan Focus) and de-commemoration (Routledge).

The diplomat said that when the Php2-million, 7.5-foot bronze statue of comfort women was taken down it was a big insult against comfort women.

As a diplomat who worked with the United Nations (UN), Shahani felt that there were certain moral problems that cannot be solved such as the comfort women.

She noted that the permission of the National Commission for the Culture and the Arts is needed before a statue can be taken down.

Jonas Roces was the sculptor of the “Comfort Women Status”, which was allegedly removed and missing.

According to Shahani, the Makati City government has no business in removing the statue of comfort women.

She could not remember any textbooks and curriculums in the DepEd (Department of Education) mentioning about comfort women.

Only a certain publication mentioned about comfort women.

There was a “comfort station” for “comfort women” during the Japanese occupation, who were called as “Lila Lolas”.

However, there were then violations and abuses against women such as rape, sexual slavery and other atrocities committed against Filipino “comfort women”.

There was an agreement between the United Nations, the Asian Fund in Japan, and the Philippine government involving the Filipino comfort women.

“There was a difference between history and heritage in the Philippines,” Shahani said.

She added that Japan is the biggest source of Overseas Development Assistance (ODA) for the Philippines. Japan has this desire for history that is “triumphant”.

“Heroism essentially ends after World War II,” she said.

She cited for an example, Gregoria dela Cruz who was not properly recognized as a Heroine of the Philippine Revolution.

“There are ways of being allies with other countries without sacrificing a country’s culture, history and heritage,” Shalani said.

“I’m even more disappointed with the DFA,” she added.

Shahani worked with the UNESCO (United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization) at the DFA.

Shahani’s mother, former Senator Leticia Ramos-Shahani was the author of the Gender and Development (GAD) Law, which allots five percent of the budget of a government agency for the projects and programs for GAD.

“Our educational system makes us think simpler,” she said. She urged everybody to be vigilant themselves.

“I would like for a Filipino diplomat to fight not only for the Balangiga Bells, but for the Filipino comfort women.” Shahani said.

Sen. Shahani was one of the two lawmakers who drafted the “Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW)”.

Former President Benigno “Noynoy” S. Aquino III was very supportive of the “Malaya Lolas” but the Supreme Court (SC) noted that the matter of comfort women is not a problem for the Philippines to seriously consider about.

Former Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario was more concerned about the country’s claims for territorial rights and sovereignty over the West Philippine Sea which was then pending before the Permanent Arbitral Tribunal in The Hague than the case of Filipino comfort women.

The comfort women statue, which cost Php2 million, reportedly went missing, which was in the custody of its sculptor Jonas Roces.

Unfortunately, Roces did not report the incident to the police authorities.

Roces clarified that he could not easily divulge what he knew about the missing statue as he himself is just an ordinary man and he is apparently fearing for his own life.

He admitted that he was commissioned by the National Historical Commission of the Philippines (NHCP) to construct the 300-pound, 7.5-foot bronze comfort women statue, among other sculptural projects that the Philippine government entrusted to him to construct.

Roces could only say that he reported the incident to the Barangay authorities.

Shahani stressed that “We are all paying taxes. There were 200,000 Filipino Muslims who were killed during the Martial Law years and why they were not included in the counting.”

Teresita Ang See, Flowers4Lolas, coalition of NGOs defending comfort women survivors, their rights and their history, said that she has even asked the help of the Quezon City police in order to locate Roces and serve him a demand letter.

See said that “The Flowers4Lolas is an umbrella group organized when government removed the one and only statue symbolizing the unfinished struggle of women victims of Japanese wartime slavery.”

“Dahil sa aksyong iyon ng pamahalaan, nagkaisa ang iba’t-ibang grupo, at tinawag naming Flowers4Lolas Campaign – upang patuloy na isulong ang pagrespeto at pagbigay ng karampatang benepisyo para sa mga nabubuhay pang mga lola,” she said.

The lead convenors of the campaign were the Kaisa Para sa Kaularan, Lila Pilipina, Malaya Lolas, Kompaneras, Descendants of Wha Chi Guerrillas, Gabriela, Kaika Ka, Integrated Development Studies Institute, Woman Health Philippines, among others.

“The convenors got the chance to go around different universities, campuses and civic organizations ang gave lectures, workshops, and conduct many other activities to teach and enlighten the public about the comfort women,” she said.

See noted that when they removed the statue, then Foreign Affairs Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano said that “the issue is long over, reparations were given in 1945. This sentiment is echoed by incumbent government officials – how uninformed and ignorant they are. Why don’t they get part of the secret intelligence fund to educate themselves and be more intelligent.”

It was on Dec. 8, 2017 when the statue was put up.

“It is truly shameful that we, yes, we, the Philippines, is the only country who bowed to Japanese government pressure when it demanded the removal of the statue. No other country bowed to pressure even if they pulled out the ambassador,” See stressed.

“It’s even more shameful that all over the country, we allowed Japan to put up shrines for their dead soldiers, who killed, raped, tortured civilians, women and children. Not to mention a shrine for Kamikaze pilots who mercilessly wiped out entire villages in Pampanga,” she said.

“The Flowers4Lolas Campaign succeeded in stopping the plans to expand that shrine in Pampanga. It is shameless and embarrassing that our local government can do that. We can forgive, but we must never forget history,” she added.

Sharon Cabusao-Silva, executive director of Lila Pilipina, leading NGO of comfort women survivors, said “We don’t want a repeat of what happened to ‘Comfort Women’ during World War II.”

“Pending the implementation of the CEDAW Recommendation, some form of assistance may be extended to the ‘Lolas’ through the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD). There are now nine surviving ‘Lolas’ and 12 ‘Malaya Pilipinas’,” Silva said.

The 1990’s Asian Women’s Fund, although announced by the Japanese government and funded by the Japanese corporations who were already helping the comfort women, however, as of today, there had been no “official compensation” from the Japanese government.

Silva said that they are still looking into the possibility of putting up another comfort women statue.

She mentioned about the still existing structures in different parts of the country, which can be visited by Filipinos.

Atty. Virginia Suarez is the legal counsel of the “Malaya Lolas”, a comfort women’s group in Pampanga, an NGO for rape survivors of the Japanese forces during World War II in the Philippines.

“If there’s an occupation, women’s bodies are abused. It is even more evident that women bodies were used during war,” Suarez said.

“The stories of our ‘Lolas’ should be integrated in the educational curriculum. There were many women who became heroines themselves but they were not properly recognized and mentioned in Philippine history books,” she added.

“The ‘Lolas’ do not deserve a ‘piece meal’ treatment from the government,” she said.

“Japan is guilty of war crimes. Japan is guilty of crime against humanity. Japan has become even more aggressive in having access to Philippine military exercises,” Suarez said.