“Many Filipinos, Americans and Japanese lost their lives in the Philippines during the war. Especially in the battle in Manila, a tremendously large number of innocent Filipino civilians were victims. Upon making this visit, we need to bear this in mind at all times.”
These were the words of Emperor Akihito before he departed from Tokyo on his way to the Philippines. The Emperor and Empress Michiko are in the Philippines from January 26 to 30 to pay respects to the Japanese and Filipino dead and strengthen ties with the country. The couple last visited the country in 1962 where they met then President Emilio Aguinaldo and are now back after 54 long years, and still to reminisce the pains of the event long gone but not entirely forgotten—the World War II (WWII).
Earlier today, the Emperor and the Empress visited the monument at the Japanese Memorial Garden in Caliraya, Laguna to offer flowers and prayers for the WWII dead. According to Nikkei Asian Review, roughly 1.1 million Filipinos and 518,000 Japanese soldiers and civilians died in the country during the WWII.
However, despite the warm welcome of the majority of Filipino people towards the royal couple, some are still restless about the demons of the past.
Last Wednesday, Liga Ng Mga Lolang Pilipina (Lila Pilipina), an organization of former Filipino comfort women, rallied for an official apology from the Emperor and Japan for the horrors the WWII has left on their hearts and minds. With Gabriela Women’s Party, members of the Lila Pilipina shared the nightmares of their past and demanded a public apology and just compensation for what has been done by Japanese soldiers during the WII. They also demanded to have the comfort women issue in both Japan and the Philippines’ historical accounts and textbooks.
Hilaria Bustamante, 89, tells Channel News Asia that she can still remember and feel the pain and shame that Japan has inflicted on her more than 70 years ago.
Living in Pampanga, she was on her way home when she ran into a Japanese military truck. They beat her to the ground, tied her, and forced her into the truck. She shares,”I was pulled out then they pushed me inside (a house) then I was forced to lay down. Then what happened inside, the three men started to rape me. I couldn’t do anything but cry. My whole body was sore. I was only sixteen years old that time.”
During the day, the comfort women would cook and clean for the soldiers. But come dark, the soldiers will come for them. This happened every day until 1944.
Her story is only one of the thousands that still haunt many comfort women during the war. At present, there are still 103 Filipino comfort women who can barely move on from the horrors of their past. Lila Pilipina and Gabriela now see the Emperor and Empress’ visit as an opportunity to make their voices and pleas heard.
However, with just a few hours before the Emperor and the Empress leave the country, not a word has yet been heard from the royal couple and from President Benigno Aquino III regarding the issue. Presidential Communications Undersecretary Manuel Quezon III said on state-run dzRB radio last Saturday that people shouldn’t expect such issues to be raised during the visit. He emphasized that the Emperor is not Japan’s head of state, but merely a symbol of the country.
Last December, Japan and South Korea has finally reached a landmark agreement regarding the issue and dispelled the dark cloud that loomed over the South Korean comfort women for years. Apart from a public apology, Japan’s prime minister Shinzo Abe promised an $8.3 million compensation for the victims.
This leaves us with the question of whether Japan and the Philippines are soon to reach a similar agreement, for the sake of the hundreds of comfort women still alive and for the sake of the dead.
[Photograph: AP Photo/Lino Escandor II]