Statue Symbolizing Wartime “Comfort Women” Creates Rancor Between Japan and the Philippines

A statue may seriously jeopardize the long-term relationship between Japan and the Philippines. This piece of artwork symbolizes the so-called “comfort women,” who actually served as sex slaves during World War II.

Located on Roxas Boulevard, in the Philippine capital city of Manila, the statue has generated a stern reaction from Japan, which supposedly settled the ” comfort women ” issue with its fellow island nation more than 60 years ago. Adding to the controversy is the fact that the statue was apparently erected without a permit.

Thousands and perhaps hundreds of thousands of women were used as sex slaves by members of the Japanese military during its war with much of the world. Most of the women were Korean, but some came from other Asian nations, including China and the Philippines. In a 1956 agreement, Japan provided the Philippines with reparations equalling approximately half-a-billion American dollars to compensate for its previous actions, which presumably included the abuse of Filipino citizens. This should have brought the issue to a close, but it was revived when the statue appeared late last year.

Rodrigo Duterte, the current president of the Philippines, has refused to take any action on the premise that the statue was not a government project and should thus not be treated as a diplomatic issue. However, the nation’s foreign secretary expressed concern that this is indeed a diplomatic problem. Alan Peter Cayetano said the statue represents a roadblock between the two Asian countries because the issue was supposedly resolved long ago. His comments came in response to a statement by the Japanese minister of internal affairs, Seiko Nodo, who said that it was “regrettable” that the statue suddenly appeared so long after the end of the war. Cayetano questioned whether the statue was supposed to honor the women who suffered or was intended to protest of the original atrocity. He noted that the process by which the statue was installed will also be examined.

It has been estimated that some 1,000 women from the Philippines served as sex slaves, with some of the survivors later forming a support group. A relatively small number of these women and only 70 from the support group are still alive, and most of them are in failing health. Despite the resolution between the governments of the two nations, the women have themselves asked for more than what was included in the 1956 agreement .

In addition to demanding financial compensation for their personal suffering, the Filipino victims have requested a public apology from Japan and a promise that their stories will be included in the histories of both nations. They had previously asked Benigno Aquino III, then the president of the Philippines, to raise the issue during a visit by Japanese Emperor Akihito. Some observers believe that these victims never received the same treatment as the Japanese “comfort women” from South Korea, who have been both recognized and generally supported by their government. The official resolution between South Korea and Japan regarding this issue came far more recently, however, with an agreement that included financial compensation of the victims being finalized less than three years ago.

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