Activists, bolstered by Filipinas alleged to have been forced to serve as sex slaves for Japanese troops during World War II, stage a protest outside the Japanese embassy in Manila on June 23, 2015, to condemn the ongoing naval exercises between the Philippine and Japanese navies being held simultaneously with separate Philippine-US exercises in Palawan. Photo by Jay Directo, Agence France-Presse
MANILA - Victims of Japanese military wartime sex abuses in the Philippines and other progressive groups protested in front of the Japanese Embassy in Manila on Tuesday to denounce growing military ties between the Philippines and Japan as demonstrated by their ongoing naval drills in the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea).
"We are worried that what happened during World War II will be repeated this time -- women being snatched, locked up and then raped," one such victim, 89-year-old Hilaria Bustamante, told Kyodo News during their demonstration.
"We really feel very bad now. That's why we're here to join the call for their ouster because up to now, they still haven't addressed the abuses they did to women. And now, they are coming back? They should be pushed out," added another such victim, 85-year-old Narcisa Claveria.
Both of them are members of a group called Lila Pilipina, whose executive director Rechilda Extremadura said its members' fears about the looming "militarization" in the Pacific started when the United States announced its security pivot to the region a few years ago.
With Japan's entry into the picture -- and in light of China's aggressive assertion of its territorial claims in the South China Sea amid the competing claims of the Philippines, Malaysia, Brunei, Vietnam and Taiwan -- there is a risk now of another war, with the Philippines being used as a launching pad, she continued.
"We can't be wrong about this because we are speaking from experience -- that if there are foreign soldiers here, certainly, women will fall victim, among others," Extremadura said in a speech.
She reiterated the group's demands for official apology from the Japanese government, just compensation and inclusion of Japanese wartime atrocities, including abuses against women, in Japan's historical account of the war.
The group regards apologies offered by various Japanese leaders in the past as not representative of the Japanese government and payments made from the Asian Women's Fund in the 1990s as merely atonement money.
"We also call on the people of Japan to keep a close watch on the plans of (Prime Minister Shinzo) Abe, on the Article 9 of your Constitution which he has reinterpreted for a collective security agreement," Extremadura said.
Teddy Casino, a former representative in Congress and currently spokesman of the leftist militant group Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (New Patriotic Alliance), said history should remind Filipinos about the abuses of both the Americans and Japanese when both countries occupied the Philippines.
"It is clear that the interest of the U.S. and Japan is not to protect the Philippines from China, nor to preserve our territory and our sovereignty. Rather, what the U.S. and Japan are after is to further expand their domination in the entire Asia so that they can impose and bring in the excess of their capital, their products, and advance their imperialist agenda of domination in the entire region," he said in his speech.
Speaking to Kyodo News later, Casino said that while the Philippines, on its own, cannot go up against China and would definitely need the support of the international community, it should not fall into the trap of taking sides only with the United States and Japan.
"We should mobilize our people, rather than depend on foreign troops. There is a big room for development in our armed forces. We can do this if our government is more innovative and creative, instead of falling into the old trap of choosing between two bullies," he said.
For him, the Philippine military's alliance with the United States for several decades only made its external defense capability weak because of its dependence.
"Whatever benefits they say that the Philippines gets from these exercises and military alliances are illusory. In fact, we become magnets for attacks by the enemies of the United States, like Japan during World War II," Casino said.
Casino and Extremadura said their groups will conduct follow-through protest actions especially now that Manila and Tokyo have already announced that discussions have begun for the possible transfer of Japanese defense equipment to the Philippines, and the frequent presence of the Japan Self-Defense Forces in the Philippines.
The Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force is conducting joint drills with the Philippine Navy this week off Palawan Island in the westernmost part of the country facing the South China Sea, sending a P3-C patrol plane to the area for the first time.
A separate annual Philippines-U.S. naval drill is also under way.
Following an agreement in late January between the Philippine and Japanese defense ministers to boost the two countries' defense ties through increased engagement, President Benigno Aquino and Abe signed in early this month a declaration for strengthened strategic partnership.
As China confronts the Philippines over ownership of islands and reefs in the South China Sea, it is also at odds with Japan over the Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea.