KUWENTONG KULE: The continuing saga of the WWII victims of sexual slavery and violence
It has been two years this week, April 27, 2018 to be exact, since the Lola statue along Roxas Boulevard in Manila was surreptitiously removed by the Duterte administration in order not to antagonize the Japanese government.
“The Japanese has paid early for that. Yung reparation started many years ago. So huwag na lang natin insultuhin,” President Duterte said in justifying the removal stressing that it is not the policy of the Philippine government to offend other nations.
Then Foreign Affairs Secretary Alan Cayetano echoed Duterte’s statement saying that the Philippines cannot strengthen its relationship with Japan if it keeps inflaming a matter that is considered “settled.”
In December 2017, Tulay Foundation’s two-meter-high “Lola” statue of an unnamed woman wearing a traditional Filipino dress, blindfolded, with hands clutched to her chest, was installed along Roxas Boulevard. The Lola statue represented Filipino women’s dignity and stands as “a reminder that wars of aggression must always be opposed, and that sexual slavery and violence should never happen again to any woman, anywhere at any time.”
Four months later, the statue was dismantled under cover of darkness on April 27, 2018, by the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH), allegedly for a drainage improvement project, but seen as submission to protests from Japan.
Issues of historical revisionism and the government’s submission to Japanese policy were raised by concerned groups led by the Flowers-for-Lolas as they condemned the removal of the statue. The Lola statue was later placed under custody of its artist, Jonas Roces, and which was supposed to be reinstalled at the Baclaran Church last August.
However, the Lola statue disappeared under dubious circumstances when Roces failed to turn it over on the scheduled date of reinstallation. He told Tulay that the Lola statue was allegedly taken by unidentified men from his art studio in Cainta Rizal.
Roces’ explanation is deemed unacceptable by the Flowers-for-Lolas. The statue cannot easily be transferred from one place to another; it took a small crane to remove it from its original location at Roxas Boulevard more than a year ago.
Another Lola statue, a young woman with fists resting on her lap, has been removed on December 30, 2018, from the Catholic-run Mary Mother of Mercy shelter for the elderly and the homeless in San Pedro, Laguna, only two days after its unveiling.
To date, the life-size statue of two women at Caticlan, Malay, Aklan is the last remaining statue that symbolizes the struggles of the Lolas. The statue was installed on February 5, 2019, and stands on the property owned by the family of women’s rights activist Nelia Sancho, who accompanied the Lolas in testifying before international venues in the late 1990s.
Even if it is a reminder of a painful past, the Lola statue honors the memory, courage, and resilience of these Filipino women. The Lola statue is meant to show that there was a war crime in World War II, and that is military sexual slavery. This must not be forgotten, especially now when most victims are old, starting to pass away, and with their death, the issue must not die down with them.
Due to their tender age then, it was a painful experience for them to be subjected to sexual slavery, rape and other forms of sexual violence during World War 2. The victims have spent their lives in misery, having endured physical injuries, pain and disability, and mental and emotional suffering.
It has been more than 70 years since the war ended on August 15, 1945, and yet the Japanese government refuses to recognize its official accountability to the victims of sexual slavery and violence. Justice has not been given to women such as Rosa Henson. The Lolas are dying without receiving a formal apology and legal compensation from Japan.
With the onslaught of the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic, Flowers-for-Lolas is worried on the health status of the surviving lolas. Experts noted that older adults and people who have severe underlying medical conditions like hypertension, heart disease, asthma, and diabetes seem to be at higher risk for developing more serious complications from COVID-19 illness, perhaps a mark of biological aging and declining immunity.
From their original number of more than 200 in the late 1990s, less than 50 survivors are still alive, highlighting a sense of urgency for them to receive a formal apology and legal compensation from Japan while their voices can still be heard.
Their fight for unequivocal public apology, accurate historical inclusion, and just compensation continues up to this day. The issue should be remembered and resolved, not buried and forgotten.
Kule is the monicker of Philippine Collegian, the official student publication of UP Diliman.
Lawyer Dennis R. Gorecho heads the seafarers’ division of the Sapalo Velez Bundang Bulilan law offices. For comments, email [email protected], or call 09175025808 or 09088665786.
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