MANILA - The remaining Filipino victims of Japanese wartime sexual slavery, or the so-called "comfort women", are hoping the next set of government officials who will be elected can finally fight for their cause.
It has been 30 years since the first batch of women went public with their stories, and they have yet to get the justice and recognition they have been asking for.
In a forum held last March 23, Lila Pilipina, composed of the remaining comfort women, called on the candidates to include their cause in their agenda once they get elected.
"Malapit na akong mamatay pero lalakasan ko pa rin ang loob ko para makamit namin, ng mga lolang natitira, ang katarungan," Lola Estelita Dy, who will be turning 92 this month, said.
(I am nearing the end of my days but I will continue to be brave so we can get the justice we have been waiting for.)
"Matagal na kaming nakibaka pero wala pa rin kaming hustisya. Siguro sa ngayon, baka sakali," she added.
(We have been fighting for a long time but we have yet to get justice. Maybe this time, we might get it.)
Lila Pilipina said they will be sending a petition letter to the Office of the President on the first day of office of the new President.
Lila Pilipina-Gabriela coordinator Sharon Cabusao-Silva lamented that one reason why the past and present administrations were hesitant to bring up the issue of wartime atrocities of the Japanese is the official development assistance that the country receives from Japan.
"Past and current Philippine presidents have refused to fulfill this responsibility. Japanese development assistance, or ODA has been the main impediment to the fulfillment of the executive department's responsibility of demanding atonement for this historical injustice," she read from the petition.
She also called on the Japanese government to issue an official public apology to the comfort women, and to delink ODA and justice for Filipino comfort women
Professor Francis Gealogo of the Ateneo de Manila University and Tanggol Kasaysayan said the inclusion of the narrative of the Filipino comfort women is an important issue that the next administration should also focus on.
"The inclusion of the narrative of our comfort women is part and parcel of the campaign of Tanggol Kasaysayan. The inclusion, not only in the official narratives of state forces and state actors, but also the inclusion of their narratives in the official textbooks," he said.
"The issue of the Filipino comfort women as we have noted in the past 30 years as historians is an issue of historical justice, an issue of historical recognition," Gealogo added.
Aside from official recognition by both the Japanese and the Philippine governments, Gealogo joined the call for just compensation for the comfort women, as well as inclusion of their stories in the historical narratives and official history textbooks.
"Negative historical revisionism is amplified by many layers of distortion. Distortions in terms of denial of their existence in history. Distortions in terms of misrepresentation of their very experiences, and distortion in terms of the negative images that were being created in the false narratives that were being peddled by other forces," he said.
"We should include the issue of the quest for justice by the lolas, by the Filipino victims of Japanese military sexual slavery as part and parcel of this electoral campaign against historical revisionism," Gealogo added.
Between 50,000 to 200,000 women became victims of the wartime sexual slavery of the Japanese Imperial Army. Aside from Filipinas, women from South Korea, Taiwan, Indonesia and even the Netherlands became sex slaves of the Japanese.
In the Philippines alone, there are around 1,000 comfort women. However, due to the sensitive nature of the issue, many of them have died without telling their stories.
It was in 1992 when Rosa Henson, or "Lola Rosa", came forward with her story. This prompted around 400 more women to come out and share their stories.
In 2001, then-Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi wrote a personal letter apologizing to all comfort women. This, however, according to Lila Pilipina, is not equivalent to an official apology from the Japanese government.
According to Lila Pilipina, the Duterte administration has not been sympathetic to the cause of the comfort women, noting that it even ordered the removal of the statue of a comfort woman in 2018.
The statue, which was erected along Roxas Boulevard in Manila and unveiled in December 2017, was removed by the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) in April 2018.
With the removal of the statue, the Philippines became the only country to tear down a statue dedicated to remembering the suffering of comfort women.
A few days after the incident, President Rodrigo Duterte supported the removal of the statue, adding the statue can be placed in a private property so as not to "insult" Japan.
This statement came months after Duterte said putting up the statue is a "constitutional right" that he cannot stop.
In 2019, a new historical marker dedicated to Filipino comfort women was unveiled at a church in Manila.
There are similar statues depicting a comfort women in other countries, with the first one erected in Seoul, South Korea in 2011. Other statues have also been erected in other parts of South Korea, and in parts of the US, Australia, China and Germany.