HomeCommentaryFlowers for Lolas: Three decades of Filipino comfort women’s fight for justice

Flowers for Lolas: Three decades of Filipino comfort women’s fight for justice

There is a sense of urgency for Filipino comfort women to receive a formal unequivocal public apology and just compensation from Japan

Mass and flowers were offered last Saturday at the Redemptorist Church grounds in Baclaran, Parañaque, to mark the 30th anniversary of the fight for justice of Filipino comfort women.

It was on September 18, 1992, when Lola Rosa Henson first appeared when she heeded Nelia Sancho’s call over a radio station for Filipino women who had been abused by wartime Japanese troops to come forward.

This became the catalyst for the comfort women movement in the Philippines.

Three surviving Filipino comfort women were present at the church on Saturday — Estelita Dy (92), Narcisa claveria ( 91) and Fidencia David (96).

Lola Estelita was only 14 years old when she spent three weeks locked in a military brothel in Talisay, Negros Occidental, where she was repeatedly raped by Japanese soldiers.

“I tried to fight back when I felt pain. The Japanese got angry, held me by the head and pushed me to the table. When I regained consciousness, the Japanese was gone. A woman told me not to fight back because I might get killed. So every time I was being raped I would just cry and cover my eyes,” said Lola Estelita in an interview.

Lola Narcisa was about 12 years old when she endured three months as a captive in the garrison in Abra. Her parents were killed when Japanese troops torched their village. Her father was “skinned like a water buffalo” when he was unable to answer questions. Two younger siblings (four and five years old) were stabbed to death when they tried to stop a Japanese soldier from raping their mother.

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Along with her sisters, Emeteria and Osmeña, and eight other girls and women who by day cooked, cleaned and did laundry, Narcisa was sexually abused usually in front of the other women.

Lola Fidencia was 14 years old when she was detained, along with her grandmother, by Japanese soldiers in a municipal hall-turned-garrison in Dasol, Pangasinan.

For ten days, she was forced to do manual labor such as cleaning and preparing food. During her first night, a soldier gagged her and pushed her head into a wall. She was raped by five to 10 soldiers a night. Later on, she would witness her own grandmother being raped and killed.

Surviving Filipino “comfort women” stand before the faithful during the celebration of the Holy Mass at the Redemptorist Church in Manila on September 17, 2022, to remember the atrocities committed by Japanese troops in the Philippines during the Second World War. (Photo by Jire Carreon)

Lola Fidencia traveled to Japan five times to tell her story, subsequently verified by a Japanese fact-finding committee.

In 2007, she testified at Canada’s House of Commons, which then passed a motion urging the Japanese government to offer a formal apology to the Asian comfort women.

In 2013, she shared her story in a conference in Canada organized by The Canadian Museum for Human Rights. Her narration was recorded to become part of its collection of human rights oral histories.

As a reporter in the 1990s, I covered the Asian sex slaves who were brave enough to tell the world about the inhuman practice of the Japanese during the war.

About 200,000 women from Korea, China, Burma, New Guinea, and the Philippines were held in captivity and many thousands more were raped as part of one of the largest operations of sexual violence in modern history.

The girls who were abducted, trafficked or brought to the Japanese military camps had their own dreams and visions for the future. All these were shattered. The victims spent their lives in misery, having endured physical injuries, pain and disability, and mental and emotional suffering.

The Women’s Tribunal that sat in Tokyo, Japan, from December 8 to 12, 2000, deliberated on the criminal liability of high-ranking Japanese military and political officials, as well as the Japanese state’s responsibility for military rape and sexual slavery.

Father Teody Holgado of the Redemptorist Church led the offering of flowers at a pedestal that was constructed for the reinstallation of the “Lola Statue” last August 2019. The priest said the Lola statue has become one of the “Desaparecidos” because it is still missing.

The four meter Lola statue that depicts a woman wearing a traditional Filipino dress, blindfolded, with hands clutched to her chest was installed along Roxas Boulevard on December 8, 2017.

Former Filipino “comfort women” hold flowers that they offered during the celebration of the Holy Mass at the Redemptorist Church in Manila on September 17, 2022. More than 1,000 Filipino women were forced to serve as sex slaves for the Japanese aggressors when Japan occupied the Philippines from December 1941 until its defeat in August 1945. (Photo by Jire Carreon)

The statue was dismantled on April 27, 2018, by the Department of Public Works, reportedly to give way to a drainage improvement project, but it was seen by critics as a submission to protests from Japan.

The statue was delivered to its artist Jonas Roces for safekeeping. However, Roces failed to turn over the statue during its scheduled reinstallation on August 25, 2019. He said the “Lola” statue was taken by unidentified men from his art studio in Cainta, Rizal.

Lola Estelita said that the dwindling number of surviving comfort women highlights a sense of urgency for them to receive a formal unequivocal public apology and just compensation from Japan as well as accurate historical inclusion while their voices can still be heard.

Atty. Dennis R. Gorecho heads the seafarers’ division of the Sapalo Velez Bundang Bulilan law offices. For comments, e-mail [email protected], or call 0917-5025808 or 0908-8665786.

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