MANILA—Three former Philippine comfort women, who were forced to work in Japanese military brothels during World War II, led a rally Friday in front of the Japanese Embassy in Manila to protest Japan’s rising militarism.
“Japan is again making its presence felt in matters of security in the Asia Pacific,” said Rechilda Extremadura, executive director of Lila Pilipina, an organization of Philippine comfort women.
“(The Japanese) government is again taking the militarist path after convincing the Japanese people and its victim-nations to erase in their collective memory Japan’s World War II atrocities like wartime sexual slavery through the comfort women system,” she said.
Extremadura told Xinhua that only three ageing victims participated in the protest rally, saying many of the victims are in their late 80s and 90s.
“Only a few number of World War II comfort women are left to express their alarm over Japan’s rising militarism, but their commitment remains unwavering,” she said.
Extremadura said the protest was an advance commemoration of the end of World War II, which the organizers dubbed as International Memorial Day of Comfort Women on August 14.
“The action also serves to call attention on their plight in time with the last day of visit in the Philippines of Japanese Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida,” she said. Kishida was in the Philippines for a three-day visit that ended Friday.
During his visit, Kishida discussed with Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte and Foreign Secretary Perfecto Yasay a string of issues, including trade, economy and maritime security.
Extremadura said Japan was able to convince the South Korean government in December, “through US prodding, to give up its fight for comfort women by accepting 1 billion yen for comfort women in exchange for their silence.”
“Then, early this year, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe made an explicit call for the amendment of Japan Constitution’s Article 9 that prevents Japan from maintaining and building up its military force, saying it is inconsistent with the existence of its Self-Defense Force,” she said.
Extremadura also said that Lila Pilipina remains in solidarity with other comfort women, especially from South Korea, and called on South Korea to pursue justice for the victims of wartime sexual slavery by thwarting attempts by the US and Japanese governments to silence them.
“They must not compromise justice in exchange for compensation. The comfort women’s dignity, destroyed by the Japanese in World War II cannot be bought by one billion yen. It can only be rebuilt by justice,” she said.
Meanwhile, Extremadura said their group is looking forward to a dialogue with President Duterte to brief him on the plight of the Filipino women who were forced to work in Japanese wartime military brothels during the WWII.
Lila Pilipina (League of Filipino Women) has documented 174 comfort women who have gone public since early 1990s. Only 70 of them remain alive. Another group, the Malaya Lolas (Free Grandmothers), has documented 90 but the number dwindled to 33 following the death of the rest over the years.
Both groups are demanding an official apology, compensation, and inclusion of the comfort women issue in Japan’s historical accounts and textbooks.
The Philippine government has intentionally avoided discussions of the issue at bilateral talks with Japan. Extremadura said they are hoping Duterte will raise the issue when he visits Japan.