Filipino activist erects comfort women memorial on private property

The life-sized bronze statue representing the Filipino comfort women victims(Nelia Sanch’s Facebook)

 

A statue paying tribute to the victims of sexual slavery under the Imperial Japanese army, euphemistically referred to as the “comfort women,” has been erected in Caticlan on the island of Panay in the Philippines, the gateway to the famous vacation hotspot Boracay.

Japanese daily Sankei Shimbun reported on Feb. 6 that Filipino activist Nelia Sancho had erected a life-sized bronze statue representing the Filipino women victims of the Japanese comfort stations, and held an unveiling ceremony. Sancho is the head of an international solidarity conference calling for the resolution of Japan’s wartime past. The bronze statue was completed in July 2018, with about 700,000 pesos (US$13,381) of personal and donated funds, and is engraved with words that salute the “Filipino comfort women who were victims of sex slavery by the Japanese military during the Second World War.”

The statue was built by sculptor Carlos Anorico Sancho over two months. Sancho erected the statue in a parking lot she owns along Caticlan Jetty Port Road, a close walk to a port where tourist board Boracay-bound boats. Sancho said, “Now [the Japanese government] cannot pressure us to remove the statue.” In 2017, a stone monument to the comfort women was erected in Manila, the Filipino capital, and in December 2018 a statue of a young girl donated by a Korean organization was erected in San Pedro, near Manila. However, due to pressure from the Japanese government both monuments were removed. Sancho, then, was referring to the fact that because her statue was erected on private property, she would not have to remove it, regardless of pressure from the Japanese government.

There were approximately 20 participants from Taiwan, North Korea, South Korea and Japan at the unveiling ceremony on Feb. 5, and about 70 students from a local high school, who recited a poem honoring the victims of wartime sex slavery. Japan invaded the Philippines in 1941, when it was part of US territory, and Filipino women became the victims of the Japanese military’s “comfort stations.” Since the testimony of Kim Hak-soon (deceased) in 1992, Filipino victims have also come out to testify.

 

By Cho Ki-weon, Hankyoreh

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South Korea Lawmaker Seeks Imperial Apology for Japan Sex Slaves

Japan’s emperor should hold hands with women forced to work in the country’s military brothels and make a personal apology if Tokyo wants to end the decades-old dispute, South Korea’s top lawmaker said.

National Assembly Speaker Moon Hee-sang said in an interview Thursday that Japanese Emperor Akihito — as the “the son of the main culprit of war crimes” — should deliver the apology before his planned abdication in May. Moon was asked how the two U.S. allies could resolve a worsening diplomatic feud fueled by disagreements over Japan’s 1910-45 occupation of the Korean Peninsula, much of it under the emperor’s late father, Hirohito.

“It only takes one word from the prime minister, who represents Japan — I wish the emperor would do it since he will step down soon,” said Moon, South Korea’s No. 2 elected official and a former presidential envoy to Japan. “Isn’t he the son of the main culprit of war crimes?

“So, if a person like that holds the hands of the elderly and says he’s really sorry, then that one word will resolve matters once and for all,” he said.

The Japanese prime minister’s office didn’t immediately respond Friday to a request for comment on Moon’s remarks.

The speaker’s comments underscore the widening divide between the neighbors, whose ties have sunk to one of their lowest points in more than half a century. The direct challenge to the emperor — a revered figure, whose father was once considered a living god — risked further angering Japan.

While Akihito offered his “deepest regret” in 1990 for Japan’s colonization of the peninsula, many Koreans argue the country has failed to properly atone for specific wrongdoings, especially forcing local women to serve as “comfort women” in military brothels. Former South Korean President Lee Myung-bak outraged Japan in 2012 when he demanded a fuller apology as a condition for an imperial visit.

The dispute reemerged after President Moon Jae-in was elected in 2017 and moved to undo the comfort women pact his predecessor reached with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. After the death of comfort woman-turned-campaigner Kim Bok-dong last month, Moon vowed to do everything in his power to “correct the history” for the 23 surviving victims.

In the interview, Moon Hee-sang said the “most sincere apologies” and compensation fund Abe offered comfort women in the December 2015 deal fell short of the sort of personal contrition German leaders have shown for their own country’s wartime atrocities.

“That is a legal apology,” he said Thursday. “Countries can exchange apologies, but the problem is there are victims.”

More than 90 percent of South Koreans believed that Japan still needed to apologize over the comfort women issue, according to a joint survey of both countries published by the Seoul-based Hankook Daily and Tokyo-based Yomiuri newspaper in July. That compared with less than 8 percent of Japanese who said another statement was necessary.

In 2001, Akihito told reporters that he felt affinity with Korea because one of his ancestors was said to have married a Korean princess. The 85-year-old monarch is due to cede the throne to Crown Prince Naruhito in May, after saying his declining health had made it difficult to carry out his duties.

Moon Hee-sang, 73, has long been a fixture in progressive South Korean political circles and served as a top aide to the current president’s mentor. In July, he was elected speaker of the 300-seat National Assembly, a position of ceremonial rank second only to the president. The pair are not related.

 

Washington Visit

The speaker will likely be asked about South Korea-Japan ties next week, when he’s slated to lead a multiparty delegation to Washington to meet top U.S. officials including American counterpart Nancy Pelosi. The two sides are also expected to discuss U.S. President Donald Trump’s next meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un later this month in Vietnam.

Moon Hee-sang described the summit as a “great opportunity that arrives once in a thousand years” to establish peace on the peninsula, which been in a state of unresolved war since 1950. Reduced hostilities between the two Koreas would also improve ties with Japan, he said.

The speaker credited Moon Jae-in with bringing Trump and Kim to the negotiating table.

“He is the president who has won trust from the both sides,” Moon Hee-sang said. “The three have a fantastic chemistry.”

— With assistance by Jon Herskovitz, Isabel Reynolds, and Emi Nobuhiro

 

By Youkyung Lee, Bloomberg

South Koreans take to the streets to pay respects to ‘comfort women’ activist Kim Bok-dong

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Supporters and mourners thronged the streets to say goodbye to Kim Bok-dong.

 

Seoul (CNN)Kim Bok-dong was brought to the Japanese Embassy in Seoul one last time Friday.

Her casket was driven slowly through the South Korean capital in a funeral procession attended by hundreds of mourners. Supporters braved sub-zero temperatures to say farewell to one of the country’s best known “comfort women.” A wartime euphemism for women and girls, like Kim, who were forced into providing sexual services for Japanese soldiers before and during World War II.
Many mourners held banners reading “Our hero Kim Bok-dong” and chanted anti-Japan slogans.
On Friday, an emotional ceremony was held in the street next to the bronze statue of a Korean girl that sits watch in front of the Japanese Embassy, a symbol of up to 200,000 women from South Korea and other Asian countries experts say were forced into Japanese wartime brothels.
A beloved leader of the “comfort women” protest movement, Kim’s supporters say she died as she lived, her final words a statement of rage against Japan, calling for the fight for justice to go on.
While Japan claims the issue is resolved by previous agreements and apologies, South Korean activists say not enough has been done — they demand a more formal apology and reparations from Tokyo.
“Kim taught us lessons about what peace is, what human rights are and what it is to hug the weak and the injured,” said Yoon Mi-hyang, president of the Korean Council for the Women Drafted for Military Sexual Slavery by Japan.

‘I can’t put into words the scars it left’

According to Kim, Japanese soldiers came to her home when she was 14, telling her she would be sent away from Korea to help with the war effort — South Korea was a colony of Japan at the time, and Kim thought she was being sent to a factory.
Over the next eight years, Kim was moved around half a dozen countries as the Japanese imperial forces spread out across Asia.
“Every Sunday, soldiers came to the brothel from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.,” Kim told CNN in an interview in 2012. “On Saturday from noon until 5 p.m., plus weekdays. I could not stand at the end of the weekend, I was physically broken.”
After the war, Kim traveled the world again, this time of her own volition, to tell her story and raise awareness of the “comfort women” issue. She even visited Japan.
She said she could never have a child because of her experience and Japan had ruined her life.
“In my old age, I would not have a single person who could call me mother, I could not have a child,” Kim added.

Apologies and reparations

Kim and her supporters repeatedly have called for the Japanese government to admit the wartime brothels were state-sanctioned. Some ultra-conservatives in Japan claim the women worked voluntarily for money.
“I want Japan to repent their wrongdoings and apologize,” she said in 2012. “Japan is saying that it was the civilians who committed such acts and they did not drag people forcefully, but people voluntarily went with then, which is a lie.”
Japanese prime ministers have apologized in the past, and Tokyo believed the issue was settled in 1965 as part of an agreement to normalize relations between the two countries.
Another landmark deal reached in 2015 saw another apology and a pledge of $8 million for a foundation to support the surviving “comfort women.”
“I think we did our duty for the current generation by reaching this final and irreversible resolution before the end of the 70th year of the war,” Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said at the time.
But the deal proved to be neither final nor irreversible as former “comfort women” rejected it, saying they had not been consulted.

A car carrying Kim Bok-dong's casket drives through downtown Seoul.

South Korean President Moon Jae-in supported their stance when he took power two years later, inviting survivors to the Blue House last year to apologize on behalf of the government.
“I want to say I’m sorry to all grandmothers for doing an inappropriate agreement with Japan,” Moon said.
He visited Kim in hospital last year as she was being treated for cancer and paid respects at her funeral.
There are just 23 known comfort woman who are still alive. Lee Yong-su, 90, is one of them. She attended the funeral Friday to say a final farewell to her friend.
The fear among those surviving is there won’t be a resolution to this issue that has soured relations between Japan and South Korea before their time comes.
Kim’s passing comes at a time when historically difficult relations between the two countries are badly frayed. Tokyo and Seoul are entangled in a military spat over flybys in the waters off the Korean Peninsula, and analysts have warned it could spiral out of control and drive a wedge between the two nations.

 

South Koreans march with coffin in ‘comfort women’ protest at Japan embassy

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People react as they hold yellow colored butterflies dedicated to former South Korean “comfort woman” Kim Bok-dong during her funeral in Seoul, South Korea, February 1, 2019. REUTERS/Kim Hong-Ji
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SEOUL: South Korean protesters marched alongside the coffin of a “comfort women” campaigner to the Japanese embassy on Friday (Feb 1) in a protest over Japan’s use of forced labour in its wartime brothels.

A hearse carried the casket of Kim Bok-dong, who died this week, to the embassy to highlight the plight of “comfort women,” a Japanese euphemism for women who were forced into prostitution and sexually abused at Japanese military brothels before and during World War II.

“Japan must apologise,” some of the protesters chanted during the march. “Japan provide formal compensation.”

Mourners carried banners thanking Kim, 93, for her devotion to the cause and called on Japan to atone for its actions. Some signs were in the shape of butterflies, a symbol of freedom for suffering women.

The “comfort women” are a contentious issue between the two Asian neighbours which share a bitter history stemming from Japan’s 1910-45 colonisation of the Korean peninsula.

Japan says the claims have been settled by past agreements and apologies, and that the continued dispute may threaten relations between the two countries.

Kim, who died in hospital after battling cancer, was one of the first victims to come forward in 1992 and became a fixture at weekly protests outside the Japanese embassy.

Kim said she was 14 when she was first sent to a military brothel, and forced to provide sex for Japanese soldiers also in China, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore.

Lee Yong-soo, a fellow victim who paid her respects despite the cold weather, laid flowers at a bronze statue of a girl erected near the Japanese embassy to represent the women.

Many mourners quietly sobbed and wiped their eyes as organisers aired a video clip in which Kim shouted during a rally that she would raise similar girl statues around the world until Tokyo sincerely apologised.

A group of conservative activists, who argue the “comfort women” issue should be set aside to foster better ties with Japan, appeared at the embassy with South Korean flags.

“How dare they wave our precious national flags? They’re the same people as those Japanese politicians who distort history,” Lee said as a she sat next to the girl statue.

Articulate and charismatic, Kim was a vocal critic of a 2015 deal in which Tokyo apologised to the victims and provided one billion yen (US$9.1 million) to a fund in Seoul to help them.

Kim said the apology was not sincere because some Japanese leaders continued to deny the women were forced to work in brothels.

Moon’s government has said it will not seek to renegotiate the 2015 deal. Last year it vowed to shut down the Japan-sponsored fund and pursue a more “victim-oriented” approach.

With Kim’s death, only 23 registered South Korean survivors are still alive, underscoring a sense of urgency behind efforts by the women to receive a formal apology and legal compensation from Japan while their voices can still be heard.

Source: Reuters/nc