Sculptor cried over removal of 'comfort woman' statue

Jervis Manahan, ABS-CBN News

Posted at May 10 2018 04:42 AM

For three months, Jonas Roces met five victims of World War II. Handout photo

MANILA - Hours before the "Comfort Woman" statue was removed along Roxas Boulevard, Jonas Roces stood by it.

And as the sun set on Manila Bay, the Filipino artist found himself crying.

He was dismayed it had to be taken down reportedly to give way to a drainage project.

The sculpture is by far his most special.

It is the embodiment, he said, of all the sorrow and rage of the victims of sexual abuse during the Japanese occupation.

In an interview with ABS-CBN News, Roces said he spent more time researching about the plight of Filipino comfort women than the actual sculpting.

For three months, he met five victims of World War II. Their pain, he said, still felt more intensely.

"Nung time na nagre-research ako, mas naramdaman ko, mas na-capture 'yung emotion. 'Yung hinaing kailangan i-materialize sa artwork ko," he said.

Of the five Filipino comfort women he talked with, only two are alive.

While crafting the image of the "Comfort Woman," he had no particular model. He only imagined it as someone in her mid-20's.

The sculpture was a commissioned work by Tulay Foundation. It was erected on December 8, 2017, but was removed on April 27, 2018.

The removal of the artwork drew condemnation from several women's groups and critics.

The decision, earlier reports said, came after it left a bad taste with the Japanese government.

President Rodrigo Duterte, however, defended the government's decision.

While Roces understood the reason behind, he insisted the government must give importance to artworks that carry the nation's history and heritage.

"Kung 'di mo papahalagahan ang kasaysayan, tayong Pilipino magiging mangmang," he said.

After being taken down, the statue was returned to him, with minor damage he's yet to repair.

Though the "Comfort Woman" is temporarily placed in his workshop in Marikina, he said things are far from over.

He will be asking several government officials to find another place to erect the statue. The Tulay Foundation is also looking for alternatives.

But more than just putting the image back in place, Roces urged Filipinos to not forget and take the history for granted.

"'Wag tayong mawalan ng pag-asa. Ang history ay 'di kailanman puwedeng mabura 'yan," he said.