Manila (Reuters) — For decades, Filipino former World War II sex slaves have been fighting for recognition and compensation for the horrors they endured at the hands of the Japanese Imperial Army.
But their campaign has seen little success and now the few surviving “comfort women” left in the Philippines, are hoping the next generation will continue their fight.
The group called themselves “Pamana”, or “Inheritance” in Filipino, consisting of a handful of supporters and descendants of the former Filipino “comfort women”, a Japanese euphemism for sex slaves.
Members of the “Pamana” were in charge of spreading information and joining protest actions on behalf of the former Filipino comfort women.
They regularly hold meetings at a run-down resource center, which was being co-managed by their group and women’s rights organization Lila Pilipina.
Former comfort women Hilaria Bustamante and Estelita Dy act as caretakers of the center, which holds the records of all documented Filipino sex slaves under the three-year Japanese rule from 1942-1945.
Bustamante, 89, was abducted from her home and raped inside a Japanese garrison when she was 16. She said she suffered psychological trauma growing up and cannot forget the ordeal even today.
“It’s not easy to forget what happened. We will bring this memory down to our graves. even if they give an apology, it is still difficult to forget. It is already marked in us,” she said.
Bustamante and Dy decided to offer their support in the early 90s, joining various street protests to demand compensation and justice from the Japanese government. They now live inside the center and teach visitors about the importance of women’s rights and the lessons of war.
“We just don’t want another war because if there’s another war, what happened to us may happen again to the newer generations,” said 85-year-old Dy.
Melinda Relos, a member of Pamana whose mother was a former comfort woman, said the centre was facing challenges in funding for upkeep and maintenance.
She said the center operates solely on grants and donations from non-profit groups, making it difficult to preserve and maintain the documents which were slowly crumbling with age.
Despite the challenges, Relos said members of Pamana like her will not leave the centre nor their advocacy for the former Filipino comfort women.
“Even if there are no longer any grandmothers present, we are still here. There are still surviving children, grandchildren and supporters that can join and continue the fight of our mothers,” she said.
Lila Pilipina has records of 174 Filipino comfort women when they started documentation in 1992, but said the total surviving victims could be less than 70 with many of the survivors dead due to old age.
Like their counterparts in China and South Korea, the Filipino former comfort women have been demanding justice through compensation and a public apology from the Japanese government.
Japan acknowledged in 1993 that the state played a role in forcing Korean and Chinese women into military brothels and set up a fund to provide compensation to survivors in 1995. However, Japan has refused to pay direct compensation to survivors.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, a former critic of the 1993 statement, now says he will uphold it. Many Japanese conservatives say there is no proof that authorities directly coerced the women.