MANILA (2nd UPDATE)—The statue depicting a comfort woman along Roxas Boulevard was removed recently to give way to a project improving the drainage system in the area, a government official said on Saturday, even as rights groups criticized those responsible for taking it down.
Lawyer Ericson Alcovenda, administrator of Manila City Hall, said the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) removed the statue at about 10 p.m. Friday to make way for its drainage improvement project.
"Around 10 p.m., ang nagtanggal niyan ang DPWH, not the City of Manila. Supervision lang po kami," he said.
Alcovenda said they were told by the DPWH that "three structures along that stretch of Roxas Boulevard will be removed."
"'Yung comfort women statue 'yung unang hakbang tapos 'yung marine officers . . . to pave the way for the drainage improvement or flood project of the DPWH," he said.
"Ever since ang stand namin, andyan lang siya. Kung patatanggal ng national government, tatanggalin 'yan because we are being ordered by the national government. But as it is, it was removed by DPWH under the supervision of the city hall kasi humingi ng assistance namin."
In a statement, DPWH confirmed that it removed the 3 statues Friday night "to give way for the improvement of Roxas (Boulevard) Baywalk Area."
"DPWH will be constructing a lateral drainage at Roxas Blvd. southbound near President Quirino Ave. Reinforced concrete pipes will be installed at that area considered as the lowest elevation in Roxas Blvd. Such RC pipes will be directed for an outfall to Manila Bay," it said.
"At least two more footbridges will be installed across Roxas Boulevard, one at CCP Central Bank and another at Pres Quirino area."
Meanwhile, women's rights group Gabriela condemned the unannounced extraction of the "comfort woman" statue.
In a statement, Gabriela alleged that the government, "like a thief in the night, removed the comfort woman statue in Manila," adding that the move was a "desecration of Filipino women's dignity as it casts a foul insult on hundreds of Filipina sex slaves victimized under the Japanese occupation."
Japan earlier voiced its displeasure over the structure to President Rodrigo Duterte.
Duterte responded by saying that the statue is a symbol of freedom of expression, which relatives of comfort women and living comfort women are entitled to use.
"That is a constitutional right which I cannot stop. It’s prohibitive for me to do that,” he said.
In a statement, the Department of Foreign Affairs deferred to the Office of the Executive Secretary on the issue.
The National Historical Commission of the Philippines on December 8 unveiled the 2-meter-high bronze statue.
It followed the erection of similar statues in South Korea, China and Australia.
An estimated 1,000 Filipino women served as comfort women during the 1941-1945 occupation. --With a report from Angel Movido, ABS-CBN News