THE RIGHT MOVE
The issue of comfort women in the Philippines first surfaced in the 1990s when Lola Rosa broke a half-century of silence, exposing the unimaginable ordeal she went through during the Japanese occupation in the Philippines during World War II. But she wasn’t the only one. It is estimated that there were 1,000 Filipino women who were later on known as “comfort women” who were gathered by Japanese Imperial Army soldiers from the town of Mapanique and housed at the Bahay na Pula to be abused, not only sexually but emotionally, psychologically and physically as well.
In 1997, a group of 90 women like Lola Rosa organized to seek long overdue justice they deserve. Eventually, some of the women's husbands, sons, and other male relatives and acquaintances who were victims of war crimes, joined the group.
After decades of legal cases filed by the Malaya Lolas (ML) in the Philippines, including in the Supreme Court, which seeks a formal apology and reparation from Japan, the UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) recently issued a 19-page decision that the Philippine government “violated the rights of [these] victims … “by failing to provide reparation, social support and recognition commensurate with the harm suffered.”
Finally, a “win” for the MLs and their supporters, albeit being long overdue and notwithstanding the fact that it had to take an international body to acknowledge the justice the abused grandmothers deserve.
And just when families and supporters of the lolas may have started to rely on the international community to push for justice rather than its own government, a flicker of hope appears as President Bongbong Marcos revealed that the Philippines is actually drafting a “comprehensive response'' to the issue of comfort women, which is in fact, scheduled to be submitted to the CEDAW.
The President responded to the released CEDAW report that the Philippines failed to assist the victims of sexual slavery committed by the Japanese Army during World War II. Because of this, the President instructed government agencies to act with haste on the concerns of the MLs.
His assurance that the current “position on the admissibility and merits of the case in view of national jurisprudence and treaty obligations” shows that his administration recognizes the grave atrocities endured by brave Filipino women during the war of the 20th century.
There is renewed hope that finally, proper commiseration for the irreversible physical and psychological effects of the war on the lolas is now on sight.
This step of PBBM is significant because it strongly demonstrates the commitment of our own government to honor the dignity of the lolas who endured physical and psychological trauma from the war. Furthermore, it solidifies the stance of his administration to uphold women's rights and gender equality.
The MLs’ courage and determination to initiate the battle for justice has already paved the way for the CEDAW to find justice for all women who were victims of violence, comfort women included, and hopefully, a genuine wake-up call for our national leaders to see a genuine apology from the Japanese government - the most fervent wish of the lolas.
Department of Justice Secretary Crispin Remulla said: “We have to continue doing that job as part of the international obligations that we have and that is history, something that is common, most known to us. We do not want justice to be too late kasi ilan na lang nabubuhay sa kanila kaya sana mahabol pa natin (because only a few of them are still alive and we want them to benefit from the law).”
While money can never compensate for the horrors and sufferings of the MLs and other female victims of abuse, reparations are necessary for society to achieve justice. It is a way to emerge from dark moments in a nation’s history by addressing breaches in massive or persistent human rights.
For now, while we await what can only be presumed to be a long battle in the courts, we hope that the creation of a shrine or memorial at the deteriorating Bahay na Pula where the women were brought to provide “relief” and “refuel” the Japanese soldier can finally commence, and hopefully, fulfilled before the few remaining MLs take their last breath . Bahay na Pula’s dark history can serve as an invaluable lesson to the country so that the horrors that happened in the past will not be repeated.
The recognition of human dignity, accountability for wrongdoing, and a desire to stop it from happening again are the objectives of transitional justice. In order for countries such as the Philippines, to advance toward peace and reconciliation, we must never forget the scars brought by history.