MANILA - A women's rights group in the Philippines has asked President Benigno Aquino to bring up the comfort women issue with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe when the two leaders meet in Manila on Saturday.
In an interview with Kyodo News on Thursday, Richilda Extremadura, president of Lila Pilipina (League for Filipino Grandmothers), expressed hope Aquino will not forget the Filipino women who were sexually abused by Japanese soldiers during World War II, when he meets Abe.
"If it will not be on the agenda, it would show that President Aquino does not have any concern about the comfort women issue, particularly, for the grandmothers who are nearing the end of their lives but have yet to receive justice," Extremadura said, noting 73 of nearly 200 former comfort women who are members of the group have already died.
The latest death was July 12.
Abe, who by Filipino rights groups is perceived as unsympathetic to the comfort women, is to arrive in Manila on Friday evening and meet with Aquino the next day, ending a three-day Southeast Asia trip to Malaysia, Singapore and the Philippines.
Abe's trip is said to be aimed at deepening Japan's economic and security ties with fast-growing Southeast Asia amid tension with China over territorial disputes.
"We pray that we will not slip from President Aquino's mind when he meets with the Japanese prime minister. When he was still a congressman, he was very much aware of our issue. He would even approach us when we lobbied for our cause. He knows we are asking Japan for an unequivocal apology, for the historical inclusion of the realities of Japanese military sexual slavery in the Philippines, and for just compensation for the victims," Extremadura said.
"I think the Japanese government should see that it is urgent that justice should be delivered to the victims because our grandmothers are dying over time. This year, three have died. Last year, there were four. They are dying without having peace because justice was denied to them," she said.
Another woman belonging to a different rights group called Malaya Lolas (Free Grandmothers) died recently in Pampanga Province north of Manila.
The surviving victims are now in their 80s, Extremadura said.
She reiterated her group does not view compensation from the Asian Women's Fund and apologies offered by various Japanese leaders and officials as the justice they are seeking because these were not "officially from the state."
"We did not see in the (apologies) that the government took responsibility for the wartime sexual slavery perpetrated by the Imperial Japanese Army," she said.
While she said she is aware the Philippine leader may cite "economic considerations" in downplaying the women's concerns because of the Philippines' strong economic relations with Japan, Extremadura said her group is calling on Aquino to act as an "honest individual and a Catholic."
"As president of the Philippines, he should represent us because we cannot directly engage with the Japanese prime minister. It is his responsibility as head of state to mention this to Mr. Abe and ask at least for a negotiation on the matter," she said.
Extremadura said she believes Abe had been issuing statements and policies contrary to her group's cause, so no discussion about the comfort women between him and Aquino "will certainly make Abe happy."
"We dare Abe to present evidence against what we have been fighting for. We have our own proof -- our very own victims. Whether they were Koreans or Filipinos, these victims told the same tales," she said.
Extremadura said Aquino has yet to deliver on his own 2010 statements on the issue when he asked Philippine Ambassador to Japan Manuel Lopez to study a "compromise" on the demands of war victims "that is acceptable to all parties" and look into the possibility for the Philippine Congress to "authorize expenditures" for material compensation.
While he found the comfort women's concerns were "legitimate" and felt sympathy, Aquino expressed fear then "very good relations" between the Philippines and Japan might be at risk.
At least a thousand Filipino women are estimated to have been forced into Japanese wartime sexual slavery.