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Philippines’ WWII sex slave survivors reject compensation move

Forced into sexual slavery for Japanese soldiers, many Filipino women suffered and only about 10 were still alive as of 2019
Elderly Filipino women who said they were sex slaves of the Japanese Imperial Army, hold a rally in front of the Japanese embassy in Manila on Aug 14, 2015

Elderly Filipino women who said they were sex slaves of the Japanese Imperial Army, hold a rally in front of the Japanese embassy in Manila on Aug 14, 2015. (Photo: AFP)

Published: March 13, 2023 12:06 PM GMT
Updated: March 13, 2023 12:32 PM GMT

Two of some 10 victims forced into sexual slavery by Japanese soldiers during World War II and still alive in the Philippines have dismissed a proposed compensation package saying money is useless at their age.  

“What can I do with so much money at my age? I can only keep them for my grandchildren,” Narcisa Claveria, 92, told UCA News.

She was reacting to President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. on March 10 urging the country’s lawmakers to pass a law to offer reparation to the sex slavery victims of Japanese forces.

Claveria said the government move is “better late than never” but pointed out that it cannot heal the trauma and suffering victims like her faced throughout their lives.

Claveria said she wanted more than an apology from the Japanese government rather than mere reparation from her own country for the ordeal. 

“… we were kidnapped and forcibly taken as sex slaves and were raped more than 7 times a day when most of us were only between 13 and 16 years old,” Claveria added.

Justice secretary Jesus Crispin Remulla told reporters that the president made the move after the United Nations women’s rights committee released a report on International Women’s Day that said the Philippines failed to support and “violated the rights of our own women.”

It said that by failing to provide reparation, social support, and recognition, the country has failed to redress “continuous discrimination and suffering of sexual slavery victims” and thus violated the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women.

The justice department says the lawmakers would still decide on the amount of reparations and if the bill would cover families of those who have already died. 

“It’s still a bill so we will leave that to the lawmakers. Even the amount of pension they will receive is up to them,” justice department lawyer Raymond Dioneda told UCA news.

Victims like Claveria say any amount of money is useless at their age as society failed to redress the discrimination they faced throughout their lives.

Many victims suffered “ostracization from families” and endured lifelong hardships combined with physical and emotional wounds, besides trauma and "a life of pain and suffering and severe medical conditions caused by the severity of the rapes on our young bodies,” she added.

Another victim, who is now 89, said the move is too late as most of the victims have already died.

Speaking on condition of anonymity, she said she was just 12 when she, along with three other women, was made a sex slave by Japanese soldiers.

She said they were tortured and raped repeatedly. A top Japanese military officer would rape her every Thursday.

“I hated Thursdays. I could not sleep Thursday evening even decades after because of the trauma,” she told UCA News.

The Pulitzer Center reported in 2019 that about 1,000 Filipino women were made sex slaves during Japan’s occupation of the Philippines from 1942-45. Only about 10 victims were still alive.

Historians estimate that some 200,000 women were victimized by Japanese soldiers in parts of Asia occupied by Japan — prominently Korea, but also Singapore, Myanmar, Vietnam, Thailand, Indonesia, and Taiwan, it reported.

Family members and relatives of the victims who already died also decried the belated move to compensate the comfort women.

Maribel Carlos, 24, a granddaughter of Isabelita Vinuya, a victim who died in 2021, lamented that her grandmother fought for reparation but died before any concrete action was undertaken to address their grievances. 

“Lola Lita [Grandmother Lita] would have been very happy to know that the government feels the urgency of passing a reparation law for comfort women like her… she fought for it for decades,” Carlos told UCA News.

Carlos recalled her grandmother strongly fought for reparation for comfort women. She said she was the president of the Malaya Lolas, a group of comfort women who filed a case with the Supreme Court in 2010 to demand a higher pension and damages.

The women’s group lost the case as the top court ruled in favor of the government that claimed it cannot demand any reparation and a public apology from Japan as it would be “inimical to the country’s foreign policy interests.”

The women’s group later lodged a complaint with the UN women’s rights committee, which issued a report slamming the Philippine government.

A relative of a deceased comfort woman from Bohol province from the central part of the Philippines questioned why the government needs a bill decades later to compensate the victims.  

“After all these years, don’t tell us that all that it takes is a report from the United Nations stating that the Philippines has violated the rights of women, particularly of comfort women, to pass a reparation law,” Mark Diogenes, 29, grandnephew of the victim, told UCA News.

Catholic women’s group, Women’s for Christ, has called on Catholic Church to pressure lawmakers to legislate the bill as fast as they could.

“If they could do it to other laws, certainly they could do it this time, to benefit our comfort women,” Mila Triciana, the group’s president, told UCA News.

Support for comfort women from the government has been long-overdue, she said.  

“We need public funds to finance this project because this is a public issue that needs to be addressed by the state,” Triciana added.

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