UN slams PH gov’t for failing to protect ‘comfort women’

The Philippines failed to redress continuous discrimination and suffering of sexual slavery victims perpetrated by Imperial Japanese Army during World War II, the United Nations (UN) women’s rights committee reported on international women’s day, March 8.

The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) based in Geneva, Switzerland in a decision said the country’s failure to fight for justice for the victims had essentially resulted in ongoing discrimination against them that continues to this day, nearly seven decades since the war ended in 1945.

CEDAW issued the decision after examining a complaint filed by 24 Filipina nationals, commonly known as “comfort women”, asking the Philippine government to support their claims against Japan for reparations for their suffering from sexual slavery in the hands of the Japanese Imperial Army.

CEDAW member Marion Bethel said the decision is a symbolic moment of victory for the victims who were previously silenced, ignored, written off and erased from history in the Philippines.

 “The committee’s views pave the way for restoring their dignity, integrity, reputation and honour,” Bethel said.

The complainants, members of Malaya Lolas (Free Grandmothers), an organization of sexual slavery survivors and supporters, testified that on November 23, 1944, they were taken to an old mansion called “Bahay na Pula” (Red House) in San Ildefonso in Bulacan province where there were repeatedly raped, tortured and subjected to inhumane conditions for up to three weeks.   

“They have since then endured long-term physical, psychological, social and economic consequences, including physical injuries, post-traumatic stress, permanent damage to their reproductive capacity and harm to their social relationships in their community, marriage and work,” CEDAW said in a news release.

They asserted that they had consistently raised their claims at the domestic level, requesting that the Government of the Philippines espouse their claims and their right to reparations against the Government of Japan, the committee reported.

Their repeated efforts, however, were dismissed by authorities, with their last action turned down by the Supreme Court in 2014. The Philippine government has always maintained that it is not in a position to claim compensation from Japan after ratifying the Treaty of Peace with Japan in 1956, it added.

In 2019, the victims then brought their case to the committee, seeking to establish the responsibility of the State party to fulfill its commitments under the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women in supporting the non-discrimination of women and girls on its territory.

The committee noted that the Philippines had waived its right to compensation by signing the Treaty of Peace with Japan.

It observed that the Philippine Commission on Women had not addressed the institutionalized system of wartime sexual slavery, its consequences for victims and survivors or their protection needs.

In contrast, Philippine war veterans, who are mostly men, are entitled to special and esteemed treatment from the Government, such as educational benefits, health-care benefits, old age, disability and death pensions.

The comfort women’s case is one of continuous discrimination, CEDAW asserted.

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

In particular, the Committee found that the State party 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.

The Committee requested that the Philippines provide the victims full reparation, including material compensation and an official apology for the continuing discrimination.

“This case demonstrates that minimizing or ignoring sexual violence against women and girls in war and conflict situations is, indeed, another egregious form of violation of women’s rights. We hope that the committee’s decision serves to restore human dignity for all of the victims, both deceased and living,” Bethel said. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

Gabriela condemns govt’s removal of comfort woman statue

Women’s group Gabriela strongly condemned the removal of the comfort woman statue along Roxas Boulevard in Manila Friday, saying the move is a desecration of Filipino women’s dignity.

Blaming Japan and the Rodrigo Duterte government for the statue’s removal, the group said the move casts a foul insult on hundreds of victims of sex slavery during the Japanese Imperial Army’s occupation of the Philippines in World War II.

Despite opposition from women’s rights advocates, historians and other sectors, “Japan once again succeeded in imposing its revisionist take on WW II on puppet regimes like the Duterte regime,” Gabriela in a statement said.

(Photo by Atty. Dennis Gorecho)

Groups and personalities are still trying to find out who ordered the removal, seeking explanations from both the Department of Public Works and Highways and the City Government of Manila.

Lawyer Dennis Gorecho, a volunteer during the statue’s erection and unveiling near Manila Bay’s breakwater, said the statue was installed with the blessings of the National Historical Institute and should be considered a historical landmark and monument protected under Republic Act No. 10066, otherwise known as the National Cultural Heritage Act of 2009.

The law protects the statue against prohibited acts such as intentional destruction, demolition, mutilation, damage, modification, and alteration, Gorecho explained.

Gorecho added construction and real estate development in any national shrine, monument, landmark and other historic edifices and structures, declared, classified, and marked by the National Historical Institute as such, are prohibited without the prior written permission from the National Historical Commission of the Philippines (NHCP).

This includes the designated security or buffer zone, extending five meters from the visible perimeter of the monument or site.

An image posted on Gorecho’s Facebook account however showed a backhoe machine operating near the statue. In the lower part of the image, the statue could no longer be seen.

(Image from Atty Dennis Gorecho’s Facebook page)

Lila Pilipina, the organization of women sexually enslaved by the Japanese Imperial Army, Tulay Foundation, a group whose members belong to Manila’s Chinese-Filipino community victimized by Japanese atrocities during the war, and other groups and individuals spearheaded the construction and installation of the statue.

It was unveiled last December 8 with NHCP executive director Ludovico Badoy in attendance, along with Gabriela, and others groups and personalities.

Similar “comfort women” statues were earlier erected in Korea, Australia, Canada, Germany, San Francisco and New Jersey, USA.

“The comfort woman statue supposedly serves as a reminder to future generations of Japan’s atrocities and abuses against Filipino women during the Second World War, and women’s historical victimization in times of wars of aggression,” Gabriela said.

Japan, however vigorously protested the erection of the statue with the Duterte government, threatening diplomatic and economic sanctions.

Japan has refused to acknowledge it sanctioned the sexual enslavement of hundreds of thousands of women during its rampage across the region during the war.

Japanese Minister of Internal Affairs and Communications Seiko Noda reportedly expressed Tokyo’s disappointment over the erection of the statue along Roxas Boulevard during her courtesy call on Duterte last January 16 in Malacañan.

Gabriela blamed the Duterte government for caving in to Japan.

“[I]t is highly despicable that the Duterte government, like a thief in the night, removed the comfort woman statue in Manila. What has been left of the marker will be a stark reminder of how the Duterte regime pimped the dignity of women and the Filipino nation in exchange for multi-billion Japanese loans and technical assistance,” Gabriela said.

Despite the statue’s removal, Gabriela said it will vigorously pursue efforts to expose Japan’s sex slavery in the country and other parts of the globe.

“Women will persevere in highlighting the horrors of Japanese occupation, no matter how Japan and its puppets try to cover it,” Gabriela said. # (Raymund B. Villanueva / Photos by Atty. Dennis Gorecho)

Filipino comfort women hold protest rally on Japanese Emperor’s visit

Filipino comfort women led a protest rally near Malacañan Palace on the occasion of Japanese Emperor Akihito’s ongoing visit to the Philippines. They also called on Philippine President Benigno Aquino to seek justice in their behalf.

Hundreds of young Filipinas were abducted by Japanese imperial forces during World War II and were forced to become sex slaves for the invading forces. Japan has never formally acknowledged the crime in the Philippines although it recently issued an official apology to the comfort women in Korea.

Aquino reportedly did not bring the matter up with the Emperor in their meeting yesterday.

Majority of the Filipina comfort women has since died and only a few are alive to carry on the fight for justice.