MANILA - Former Filipino World War II fighters and victims of Japan's military brothels remembered on Tuesday the 74th anniversary of Japan's invasion of the Philippines and the start of the greatest war in the Pacific.
"On Dec. 8, 1941, I was a fourth year student. One day, when the war broke out, we were told, 'get out,' and we joined the Hunters," recalled Proculo Mojica, 92, a former member of a paramilitary service composed of students that fought against the invading Japanese soldiers until the end of the war in 1945.
The Hunters ROTC (Reserve Officers' Training Corps) guerrillas were one of the armed groups that resisted the Japanese occupation in the Philippines. It was formed in January 1942, a few weeks after Japan's invasion of the country, growing from an initial 70-member force to more than 25,000 in its final form.
Japan's bombing of Pearl Harbor in Hawaii on Dec. 8, 1941 was immediately followed by attacks on what was then a U.S. colony, the Philippines, leading to its occupation through 1945.
Speaking in a forum, Mojica, who has authored a book on the group's struggle, was joined by fellow Hunter member Domingo Reyes, 88, Chinese guerrilla Dee Kong Hi, 92, and former comfort women Hilaria Bustamante, 89, and Estelita Dy, 85.
The Chinese guerrilla group was called the Wha Chi, or the Philippine Chinese Anti-Japanese Guerrilla Squadron, and was formed in May 1942. Playing key roles in various anti-Japanese battles in the country, the group was only demobilized in September 1945 after Japan's announcement in August that year of its unconditional surrender.
The two "comfort women," a euphemism for women who were forced to work in Japanese military brothels during the war, meanwhile, are members of Lila Pilipina (League of Filipino Grandmothers).
"We should remember that today is the 74th anniversary of the start of World War II in the Philippines, and we are meaningfully commemorating it with our very special guests in order to help build peace all over the world and in Asia," forum organizer and moderator, Wilson Lee Flores, said.
In his testimony, Dee recounted the abuse he experienced and witnessed from Japanese soldiers, as well as the hardships, mainly due to lack of food, faced during wartime.
Bustamante and Dy, for their part, reiterated their demand for an official public apology and just compensation from the Japanese government, as well as the inclusion of sexual slavery during the war in Japan's historical accounts.
They also lamented over the lack of support from the Philippine government for their struggle.
"Our struggle is against the Japanese government. The lolas (grandmothers) wanted compensation from the Japanese government...it was perpetrated by the soldiers, and it was policy from the top to the bottom of the Japan Imperial Army. So the responsibility lies with the government. We want the Japanese government to recognize, accept and be accountable," Rechilda Extremadura, executive director of Lila Pilipina, said.
Of the estimated 200,000 victims of Japanese military sexual slavery in Asia during World War II, some 1,000 were from the Philippines, she said.
The forum revealed the difference between the status of comfort women, a number of whom are still crying for justice to this day, and Filipino war veterans, who, aside from enjoying continuing aid from a bank set up using part of the war reparations from Japan, were also able to get assistance from the government of the United States.
Miguel Angelo Villa-Real of the Philippine Veterans Bank said his organization is willing to help document and propagate the stories of comfort women, as they did for war veterans, while Philippine Sen. Cynthia Villar expressed approval of the possibility of congress helping comfort women get compensation from the national budget.
It is estimated that more a million Filipinos died during the war, the bulk of whom died during the major battles leading to the end of the war. Thousands of foreigners, including American and Japanese soldiers, suffered the same fate.
After the war, the Philippines' capital Manila was said to be second only to Warsaw in Poland in a list of Allied capital cities which sustained the most damage.