Standing on the frontiers of the famous Manila Bay, along Roxas Boulevard, is a statue that generated controversy about the comfort women during the Japanese time in the Philippines. The statue that was erected according to Philippines Foreign Secretary, Alan Peter Cayetano, did not have any permit to begin with and had been constructed without any proper permission from appropriate government agencies.
During World War II, the Japanese Imperial Army committed some atrocities, which includes forcing local women into becoming sex slaves. These women who were coerced into sexual slavery have been termed as “comfort women”. Years and decades after the war, the stigma that came from being a comfort woman has not diminished with time. This is especially true with the surviving relatives of the said women who have demanded that Japan apologize and make just compensations.
While Japan’s relationships with its neighboring countries like the Philippines, China and South Korea have been strained by the wartime atrocity in the ensuing years, Japan was able to alleviate the issue through the provision of overseas investments and aid.
Cayetano commented that to be able to fortify the Philippines international relationship with other countries, concerns that occurred in the past which each party has thought to be settled must be so. In reality, to all forms of relationships, whether political or otherwise, past issues must not be rehashed every time to be able to move forward.
Malacañang, on the other hand, stated that President Rodrigo Duterte would not interfere with the issue because it is out his executive jurisdiction as the president of the nation. This was validated by Harry Roque, Presidential Spokesman, when inquiries were made about the said statue.
As investigation has it, the statue was erected by a Chinese-Filipino group, the Tulay Foundation, headed by Manuel Chua. Teresita Ang-See, co-founder of Kaisa sa Kaunlaran, says that Manila Mayor Estrada and Foreign Secretary Alan Cayetano must not find anything wrong with the supposed statue. She also stated that it is the right of the Japanese Embassy to issue a formal objection but the government of the Philippines must defend its constituents’ position regarding this issue.
To this, Foreign Secretary Cayetano explained that if the intention was to honor the plight of the comfort women stories during the Japanese time then there is no need to discuss the matter further. But then if the erection of the statue is suggestive of creating animosity between the Philippines and Japan then it is an issue that concerns him, as the Foreign Secretary of the country.
As this controversy rages on in the Philippines, such issues were likewise discussed between South Korea and Japan. South Korean women were also subjected to sex slavery during the Japanese occupation in World War II, and to ease the tension regarding this matter Japan made a move to establish the Asian Women’s Fund that would provide financial compensation and health care assistance for comfort women.
Although the Asian Women’s Fund was established, the surviving relatives and Seoul still demanded for a better compensation scheme that can be justified as an official response from Japan. The matter was only settled when the December 2015 Agreement between Japan and South Korea was sealed by a one-time lump sum contribution to the Asian Women’s Fund. The funds would be used to create projects for the needs of the surviving relatives of the Korean comfort women .
Relevant to the foregoing, Cayetano made it clear that the government of the Philippines is not prohibiting the comfort women survivors to seek just compensations. This was confirmed by a statement made by President Rodrigo Duterte that it is a constitutional right which he cannot prohibit, because this would mean curtailing the freedom of expression of the comfort women’s relatives.