MANILA, Philippines – The High Court thumbed down the petition of more than 70 Filipino comfort women seeking to compel government officials to support their claim for an apology from the Japanese government before international tribunals.
In the 34-page decision penned by Associate Justice Mariano del Castillo, it stated that the Court en banc likewise rejected the petitioners' motion to declare that the respondents committed grave abuse of discretion amounting to lack or excess discretion in their refusal to espouse claims for the crimes against humanity and war crimes committed against them.
Members of the Malaya Lolas Organization filed the petition against Foreign Affairs Secretary Alberto Romulo, former foreign affairs secretary Delia Domingo Albert, former justice secretary and now Ombudsman Merceditas Gutierrez and former Solicitor General Alfredo Benipayo.
The non-stock, non-profit organization was established to provide aid to the victims of military sexual abuse and violence committed by Japan during World War II.
The Court held that espousing claims of its nationals against a foreign government is a foreign relations matter, which should be addressed by the political branches and not by the courts.
“Of course, we greatly sympathize with the cause of petitioners, and we cannot begin to comprehend the unimaginable horror they underwent at the hands of the Japanese soldiers. Regrettably, it is not within our power to order the Executive Department to take up the petitioners’ cause. Ours is only the power to urge and exhort the Executive Department to take up petitioners’ cause,” the ruling stated.
The victims stated in the petition that the general waiver of claims made by the Philippine government in the Treaty of Peace with Japan signed in 1951 is void.
The government’s refusal to support their claim against Japan violated its legal obligation not to afford impunity for crimes against humanity, they said.
Furthermore, they insisted that the Philippine government’s acceptance of the apologies made by Japan as well as funds from the Asian Women’s Fund were contrary to international law.
The SC noted that the executive department has determined that taking up the petitioners’ cause would be inimical to the country’s foreign policy interests, and could disrupt relations with Japan and create serious implications for stability in the region.
“For us to overturn the executive department’s determination would mean an assessment of the foreign policy judgments by a coordinate political branch to which authority to make that judgment has been constitutionally committed,” it added.
The Court further stressed that contrary to the claims of the petitioners, the Philippines is not under any international obligation to espouse their claims against Japan.
The Court explained that at present, “there is no sufficient evidence to establish a general international obligation for States to exercise diplomatic protection of their own nationals abroad.”