Is Manila now making concessions for Tokyo?: Inquirer

The Department of Public Works and Highways  had dug up the memorial statue to give way to an improved drainage system in the baywalk area.
The Department of Public Works and Highways had dug up the memorial statue to give way to an improved drainage system in the baywalk area.PHOTO: REUTERS

In its editorial, the paper questions the reasons for a missing statue in Manila, that served as a memorial for Filipino comfort women who served during World War II

MANILA (PHILIPPINE DAILY INQUIRER/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - On Saturday morning, joggers and promenaders along Roxas Boulevard in Manila noticed something conspicuously missing: the 7-foot bronze statue of a blindfolded, mourning woman in traditional Filipiniana gown that served as a memorial to comfort women.

In its usual place was a backhoe and an unsightly trench.

A crew from the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) had dug up the statue on Friday night and carted it away in a covert operation that brings to mind the Marcos burial at Libingan ng mga Bayani and the Department of Foreign Affairs' controversial rescue of abused Filipino domestic workers in Kuwait.

The DPWH's explanation - that the removal was to give way to an improved drainage system in the baywalk area - has drawn criticisms not least because Japan earlier expressed its displeasure over the statue since it was erected in December 2017 by a private foundation, with support and approval from the National Historical Commission of the Philippines.

The memorial was meant to remind people of what Filipino comfort women had gone through during World War II, when girls as young as 12 years old were taken by Japanese troops and forced to work in military-run brothels euphemistically called "comfort stations."

An estimated 1,000 Filipino girls served as comfort women during the 1941-1945 Japanese occupation, while a United Nations investigation found that as many as 200,000 from Asia had been enslaved from 1932 until the war ended in 1945.

As Gabriela Women's Party Representative Arlene Brosas said of the memorial: "We need to address the historical injustice against comfort women, and counter Japan's revisionist take on World War II."

Although Malacañang earlier disavowed any knowledge of the statue's existence, this time President Duterte said the statue had to go as it was not the country's policy to "antagonise other nations."

The statue should have been placed in a private space, he added, oblivious to the fact that monuments and memorials are almost always erected in public places precisely to reach a wider audience.

Like most Filipinos, Mr Duterte was apparently misinformed when he said that Japan had already paid dearly for its war crimes having made reparations to the women a long time ago.

Japan's payment of war reparations to the Philippines - mainly through equipment and machinery - was made within a span of 20 years, from 1956 to 1976.

The comfort women issue surfaced in the early 1990s.

The remaining Filipino comfort women who banded together under the group Lila Pilipina had demanded an official apology and compensation from the Japanese government.

But what they got fell short after a Japanese official acknowledged the system in 1993 in what again appears as historical revisionism.

In the Kono Statement, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yohei Kono said that "the recruitment of the comfort women was conducted mainly by private recruiters who acted in response to the request of the military," words that imply consent and an eye for gain among the women, instead of forceful abduction and detention.

And while a compensation fund for Filipino comfort women was later set up, it was not from the Japanese government but from private donors, which allowed Japan to again distance itself from this war atrocity.

Japan's refusal to acknowledge this sordid chapter in history can be seen in how it sanitises its textbooks and uses its economic clout to pressure other countries that similarly erected comfort women memorials-South Korea, China, Australia, and the United States.

In November 2017, the mayor of Osaka cut ties with San Francisco over one such statue put up in a downtown square.

Was the statue's removal from Roxas Boulevard a concessionary gesture and an expression of servility and gratitude for Japan's generous pledges of loans and financial commitments to this administration?

The government last year secured US$1.26 billion (S$1.68) in commitments from Japan, mainly to finance infrastructure projects, according to the Department of Finance.

The grants and soft loans formed part of the one trillion yen (S$12.2 billion) in investments, as well as official development assistance earlier committed by Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.

In October last year, 18 letters of intent were signed by 20 Japanese firms for US$6 billion in new investments in agribusiness, ICT, infrastructure, manufacturing, power, renewable energy, shipbuilding, and transportation, among other sectors.

But exchanging our women's honour and dismissing their wartime ordeal for such filthy lucre is too cheap a price. No sale!

The Philippine Daily Inquirer is a member of The Straits Times media partner Asia News Network, an alliance of 23 news media entities.