MANILA - A new historical marker dedicated to Filipino "comfort women" was unveiled Sunday at a church in Manila, over a year after a similar memorial in the capital was removed due apparently to Japanese pressure.
Local women's groups Lila Pilipina and the Gabriela Women's Party and nongovernment organization Kaisa Para sa Kaunlaran (Unity for Progress) unveiled the large granite monument with a metal plaque honoring "the victims of military sexual slavery and violence during the Second World War."
Congresswoman Arlene Brosas of the Gabriela Women's Party said she hopes the monument, located on the grounds of Baclaran Church, would serve as a reminder to people about the history of "comfort women."
"Ever since our grandmothers opened up about their problem, the government has never given them a proper response," Brosas said.
A bronze statue that was supposed to serve as the centerpiece of the monument went missing in recent days from the home of the artist who created it.
Teresita Ang-See, founding president of Kaisa Para sa Kaunlaran," said the artist told the group only Thursday that the 2-meter-high statue of a blindfolded Filipina was safely in his possession.
"Then suddenly, when it was supposed to be put up, he suddenly said that it is gone," Ang-See said, expressing doubt about the story told to them by the artist Jonas Roces.
The statue is the same one removed by city authorities in April last year from a memorial installed on the Manila Baywalk.
The memorial, which was unveiled the previous December, was removed ostensibly for a drainage improvement project along the Baywalk, but women's groups suspect that municipal authorities caved into pressure from the Japanese government to take it down.
After the removal, the statue was returned to the artist to repair minor damage sustained during its removal.
"The burden of what happened to the grandmother (statue) now lies on Jonas Roces, being the sculptor, being in custody of the grandmother (statue)," lawyer Virginia Lacsa-Suarez, the groups' legal counsel said, adding that a demand letter was already sent to Jonas.
President Rodrigo Duterte afterward defended the removal, saying it is not the policy of the government to "antagonize other nations." He added that the statue could be erected on private property.
There are an estimated 1,000 Filipino women who were believed to have been sexually abused by Japanese soldiers during the occupation period who have since stepped forward since the 1990's to tell their stories.