Flowers for Lolas: Japan used economic assistance to avoid the comfort women issue

By: ATTY. DENNIS GORECHO - Columnist/CDN Digital | August 02,2023 - 06:55 AM

Japan seeks to avoid the international issue of comfort women in the Philippines and other countries, including China, Taiwan, and South Korea through the Overseas Development Aid (ODA) as economic assistance.

This was the response of Lila Filipina’s Sharon Cabusao on the question  during the recent online forum organized by the Geneva Graduate Institute on the reasons behind the removals of the statues of comfort women.

The two-meter high “Lola” statue was  installed in December 2017 along Baywalk, Roxas Boulevard in Manila. It was an unnamed woman wearing a traditional Filipino dress, blindfolded, with hands clutched to her chest.

However, it  was removed on April 27, 2018, allegedly for a drainage improvement project, but seen as submission to protests from Japan. It was later declared missing in August 2019 when the artist, Jonas Roces, failed to deliver the statue for its reinstallation at the Baclaran Church.

Another comfort woman statue —of a young woman with fists resting on her lap—has been removed 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 in January 2019.

The remaining comfort woman “Lola” statue previously owned by the late Nelia Sancho now in Pandan, Antique.

Cabusao’s statement essentially echoes the context of a paper published last May 2022 in the Thai Journal of East Asian Studies (TJEAS) written by Shyntia Lo and Theofilus Jose Setiawan wherein they noted that  Japanese ODA in the Philippines indirectly bribed the Philippine government for not participating in censoring Japanese atrocities during the Second World War.

In developing countries, Japan has implemented various types of cooperation called ODA such as providing funds, transferring technologies for social and economic growth, assistance for disaster relief, and so forth.

The website of the Japanese embassy noted that Japan has been, and continues to be, the largest ODA donor to the Philippines with a total assistance comprising 61 percent of the entire ODA received by the Philippines in 2020.

It added that Japan’s first ODA project started in 1966. Since then, over US$34 billion in grants, loans, and technical assistance have been provided all over the country.

The Department of Finance (DOF) said in August 2021 that Japan ODA reached a total of US$14.139 billion in loans contracted and committed over a 20-year period covering the three administrations (Arroyo, Aquino, and Duterte), or 72 percent of the Philippines’ total bilateral loan portfolio during this period.

Philippines is third in rank in terms of countries that received ODA in 2021, next to India and Bangladesh.

Through economic assistance, the TJEAS paper stressed, Japan manipulated ODA funding to suppress international public discourse in the Philippines on the issue of comfort women. By contrast, the Korean and Chinese governments continued to pressure Japan to formally apologize.

Although the Philippines was a victim of Japanese imperialism, especially in providing comfort women during the Second World War, the paper pointed out that  the Philippine government responded positively to development aid loans and investments as economically beneficial, disregarding rights of comfort women victims to voice demands through the Philippine government.

ODA, in addition to economic and development assistance, became a Japanese approach to the Philippines government to diminish the issue of international war crimes.

“Rational choice theory analysis indicates that the Philippine government has preferred the Japanese government over its own citizens by refusing to raise the issue of comfort women. The Philippine government, as a rational actor, prioritizes national interests such as development instead of addressing historical problems. The state, as rational actor, prioritizes its own interests over those of other parties, especially if in terms of obtaining Japanese ODA,” the paper said.

The UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) has issued a decision last March 8 stating that the Philippines violated the rights of WWII victims of sexual slavery by failing to provide reparation, social support and recognition commensurate with the harm suffered.

The Committee concluded that the Philippines had breached its  obligations under CEDAW given the extreme severity of gender-based violence suffered by the victims, and the continuing discrimination against them regarding restitution, compensation and rehabilitation.

The Philippines  had failed to adopt appropriate legislative and other measures to prohibit all discrimination against women and protect women’s rights on an equal basis with men.

(Atty. Dennis Gorecho heads the seafarers’ division of the Sapalo Velez Bundang Bulilan law offices. For comments, email, or call 09175025808 or 09088665786.)

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TAGS: comfort women, Japan, Lola, ODA, Philippines
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