Painful remnants of World War II

ariel nepomuceno_1EMPEROR Akihito and Empress Michiko charmed their way into the hearts of the Filipinos when they visited the country just last week to celebrate the 60th anniversary of Filipino-Japanese relations. Dignified, simple and gentle were the ways of the royal couple as the country watched them pay their respects to Filipinos who waged their lives in World War II at the Heroes’ Cemetery. Historical statistics reveal that more than 1 million Filipinos and around half-a-million Japanese perished in this war.

The Emperor recognized the countless deaths, injuries and sufferings brought about by the war and the trauma that it left to those who have directly experienced it. Deep regrets were communicated by the couple about the abuses committed by the Japanese Imperial Army against our soldiers and, most of all, innocent civilians including women and children. As a result, he repeatedly stressed the importance of remembering the evil effects of war and that all efforts should be exerted to avoid it. This comment is particularly relevant in the midst of growing tension among countries in this region due to the maritime disputes with China.

Horrors of the war

But while the emperor and the empress articulated their utmost sympathy, Filipino comfort women, mostly in their 70s to 80s, rallied in front of the Japanese embassy, crying foul about the way both the Filipino and Japanese government completely ignored their cause. Comfort women were victims of sexual slavery and abuse during World War II. War documents and journal show that more than hundreds of women were systematically raped, abused, tortured and forced to do servant duties in comfort stations or brothels maintained by the Japanese troops. Because of the stigma, most of these women have chosen to keep silent and it was only in the 1990s that some of them went out to tell their agonizing stories.

Postwar struggle

Two groups—the Malaya Lolas and the Lila Filipina—are disappointed that their plight and quest for justice have not been addressed by the President. These groups are demanding an apology, compensation and acknowledgement in historical books or accounts that comfort women and the atrocities committed against them are, indeed, factual and not fictional. While there were attempts to pay “atonement” money to some of the victims, the funds came from private donors and not from the Japanese government itself. Worst, the donations were scant and not commensurate to the inhuman treatment they received from the Japanese soldiers. Most of these comfort women have passed away and the ones remaining are so advanced in age that their families are losing hope.

Worst collateral victims

War and its disastrous consequences should be viewed not only from the angle of how intense the participants engage in violent battles. The biggest losers in a war are women who, in the current state of things, are already victims of socio-political inequities. They suffer gross violations of human rights. And because rape has been used as a systematic weapon of war, the inequity becomes even more pronounced and raised to a level of horrifying dehumanization. The effects linger for years even long after the war has ended. Thus, the pleas of the comfort women are but reflections of the need to involve affected women in policy development and decision-making processes in post-armed conflict scenarios after a war that should not have occurred in the first place.




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