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Philippine comfort women vow not to be silenced

Fight for justice against Japan, US exploitation will continue, they say

Philippine comfort women vow not to be silenced

Surviving Filipino victims of sexual abuse by Japanese forces during World War II vow to keep demanding justice for their suffering. (File photo by Vincent Go)

Published: February 09, 2016 07:45 AM GMT

Updated: February 09, 2016 07:47 AM GMT

Narcisa Claveria, 85, has spent two decades fighting to get justice for horrors she suffered as a teenage sex slave of Japanese troops during the Second World War. 

Now the feisty lola, or "grandmother," has begun a new battle: to fight Philippine President Benigno Aquino's move to forge stronger links between the country's military and Japan and the Philippine's deal to host eight new United States military bases.

"I may be old but I will fight against these plans," Claveria vowed at the launch of the 2016 "One Billion Rising" global campaign that focuses on the plight of marginalized and abused women.

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Fostering stronger ties with the Japanese military, she said, is a reward for an institution that enslaved Filipino women to serve the needs of their war machine.

Claveria, one of a dwindling number of former comfort women, railed against Aquino's silence on the issue of Filipino sex slaves during the recent visit of Japanese Emperor Akihito.

She challenged the president to imagine his sisters experiencing the same degradation.

"If the same things happened to his sisters — rape, being forced to cook, or beaten up if you refused to open your legs for Japanese soldiers, how would he feel?" she said. 

Former Filipino comfort women entered the spotlight in the 1990s when Rosa Henson, who after her traumatic experience at the hands of the Japanese became a guerrilla for the leftist Hukbalahap group that fought the occupation and post-war government, shared her story. 

Four hundred other women, who had borne their trauma in silence for decades, also stepped forward.

Despite the pledges of help by a series of Philippine presidents, the women of Lila Pilipina — a group of comfort women survivors — have never received an apology from the Japanese government, which continues to wash its hands of the atrocities heaped on an estimated 200,000 Asian women.

The group lost a suit they filed in Tokyo as the court ruled that what they sought were matters best left to states. 

Its members also turned down offers of "aid" because Japanese citizens, not the government, footed the bill, and because of a lack of a formal apology.


Comfort women, too

Although U.S. soldiers fought with Filipinos against the Japanese during World War II, Claveria said that the Philippines' former colonial master also encouraged the prostitution of women on the fringes of its former military bases in Subic, Olongapo and Clark in Pampanga.

"Maybe they didn't train a gun on those women but they exploited their poverty," Claveria told ucanews.com.

"They had middle men to coerce and threaten the women," she said.

"They were also comfort women," Claveria said. "Entire towns also catered to the sexual needs of American soldiers. How many thousands of children did they abandon?"

Pearl S. Buck International estimates there are 52,000 Amerasian (Asian born to a U.S. military father) in the country.  

The foundation tries to unite them with their fathers, resettle them in the United States, or help them with their education needs in the Philippines.


Nonending cycles

Claveria said the Philippine government, Japan and the U.S. "are just waiting for all of us to die so no one remembers anymore the sins of the past."

Lila Pilipina coordinator Richie Extramadura said sexual slavery is considered a war crime, citing reports against Serbian troops and military forces during the war in Kosovo.

"But it seems the world wants to forget the comfort women of World War II," she said.

The Philippine government, she added, is partly to blame, as it has never taken up the cudgels for Filipino comfort women survivors.

During congressional hearings, Philippine diplomats pointed to the country's economic ties with Japan, Extramadura said.

"They keep saying, 'don't tip the balance' at the expense of Filipino women," she told ucanews.com.

"The Japanese, on the other hand, still pretend it was all just an unfortunate result of conflict, instead of admitting that their government deliberately created the system to serve the needs of invading troops," she added.

Claveria, meanwhile, expressed bitterness over the recent visit of Japanese Emperor Akihito, saying neither Aquino nor his guest acknowledged the comfort woman issue.

"He could mention our bad traffic, but not comfort women. He paid his respects to dead soldiers but not the living that continue to suffer," she said of the emperor.

The warrior for justice said her remaining years would also be dedicated to blocking new arrangements that could suck in thousands of a new generation of Filipino women into becoming chattels for foreign armies.

"My voice is all I have," said Claveria. "It will only be silenced once they carry me to my grave."


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