Saturday, August 7, 2010

COMFORT WOMEN: The elusive quest for justice (Part1)

On April 28, 2010, the Supreme Court in Vinuya v. Romulo (G.R. No 162230) dismissed the petition filed by Filipino comfort women to compel the Philippine government to get a public apology from Japan and to secure reparation to victims of sexual abuse during World War II. Through the pen of Justice Mariano Del Castillo, the Court held, among others, that the Philippine government is not under any international obligation to espouse petitioners’ claims before the International Court of Justice (ICJ) or any other international tribunal for that matter. Moreover, the claims for reparation put forth by petitioners against Japan are barred because they are deemed included in the waiver of claims by the Allied Powers, as provided mainly in the San Francisco Treaty of Peace of 1951. In other words, the Philippine government purportedly speaking in behalf of the victims, its citizens had already abandoned any claim for compensation as regards to Filipino comfort women ever since the signing of the Peace Treaty with Japan. I shall deal later with the merits of the position taken by the government.

It was in 1992 when we first heard the sad story of Lola Rosa, the first Filipina comfort woman to come forward publicly. Back then, she seemed to be alone in the wilderness shedding light on the ordeals of Filipina comfort women. After almost fifty (50) years, Lola Rosa finally revealed what it was really like to be a young Filipina held captive by the Japs during those fateful times. Even now, as I review the facts of Lola Rosa’s account, the rape, sexual slavery, torture and violence committed by the Japanese are truly disturbing and unthinkable for any human being. Imagine this, a scene of what appears to be her baptism of fire: at 16 years old, she was abducted and kept in a town hospital turned garrison. Suddenly, a Japanese soldier barged into the room. Armed with a bayonet, the soldier slashed her dress and stripped it open. Thereafter, he ravished her, her youth devoured whole. It happened for twelve more times that fateful day with 12 different soldiers. The little time she was left alone was almost unrecognizable and insignificant for only after 30 minutes or so, she bravely recounted, a new batch of hungry soldiers came to wolf on her jaded young body.

Such was the fate of Lola Rosa, a sex slave for the Imperial soldiers. But she was not alone in this plight. Lola Rosa at the time clearly represents the face of comfort women who were too ashamed to come out in the open. Soon enough though, inspired by Lola Rosa’s courage, many other Filipinas, erstwhile “comfort women” came out to speak the truth and recounted their own stories during captivity.

It is of importance to know that the crimes committed by Japanese soldiers were more than just series of rape or unconsented sex. There’s a lot more in it. In his article, The continuing agony of comfort (PDI, 07/22/10) women, quondam dean of the UP College of Law Raul Pangalangan made the following observation: we are talking about sustained and systematic abuse and debasement on a daily basis over months, if not years, of captivity. The UN rapporteurs have listed the following crimes, sexual violence, slavery, including sexual slavery and forced prostitution, crimes against humanity and cruelty, inhuman and degrading treatment.Here he tried to open the eyes of his readers into realizing that the repetitive stories of abuse of our local women was not, in reality, mere episodes of worldly desires, like most of us are aware of. Here he explained, the comfort women genre was in truth and in fact, a system crafted by the Japanese authorities to appease their soldiers’ sexual appetites in the course of their occupation. Like bones given to hungry dogs, our women were offered as hopeless preys. It was therefore clearly deliberate, fearless and unimaginable. It was a war policy out to keep them in war. In Vinuya v. Romulo, the Court ventured into the historical antecedents of the comfort women system.

The comfort women system was the tragic legacy of the Rape of Nanking. In December 1937, Japanese military forces captured the city of Nanking in China and began a “barbaric campaign of terror” known as the Rape of Nanking, which included the rapes and murders of an estimated 20,000 to 80,000 Chinese women, including young girls, pregnant mothers, and elderly women.

In reaction to international outcry over the incident, the Japanese government sought ways to end international condemnation by establishing the “comfort women” system. Under this system, the military could simultaneously appease soldiers' sexual appetites and contain soldiers' activities within a regulated environment. Comfort stations would also prevent the spread of venereal disease among soldiers and discourage soldiers from raping inhabitants of occupied territories.

Daily life as a comfort woman was “unmitigated misery.” The military forced victims into barracks-style stations divided into tiny cubicles where they were forced to live, sleep, and have sex with as many 30 soldiers per day. The 30 minutes allotted for sexual relations with each soldier were 30-minute increments of unimaginable horror for the women. Disease was rampant. Military doctors regularly examined the women, but these checks were carried out to prevent the spread of venereal diseases; little notice was taken of the frequent cigarette burns, bruises, bayonet stabs and even broken bones inflicted on the women by soldiers.

In 1991 a case for damages was filed by three former Korean comfort women before the Tokyo District Court. Others followed suit. However, as matter defense the Japanese government denied any involvement in the establishment of brothels or comfort stations during the war. It raised the issue that these brothels used for forced prostitution were set up and maintained not by Japanese soldiers as claimed by the victims, but private individuals. To this end, the Japanese government consistently invoked the same line of defense and thereby caused the dismissal of every suit in the domestic court.

But that is not the end of it. That seminal lawsuit made headlines and raised public awareness worldwide. Thereafter, serious efforts began mainly under auspices of the United Nations pressing among others, that Japan must issue a public apology admitting the establishment of comfort women system by the Japanese Imperial Army during the war, accept legal responsibility for that violation and pay the appropriate compensation to all their victims.

In 1992, faced with overwhelming evidence, the Japanese government finally succumbed to admission that indeed the military itself was involved in the operation of comfort stations during the war. A year later the much awaited apology came from no less than the Japanese government. In a statement issued by the Miyazawa government, the first explicit apology after fifty (50) years of denial, the government 'acknowledged' that the military had actively and forcibly maintained women sex slaves to satisfy the sexual urges of Japanese soldiers during World War II. The belated admission came as a direct result of a government investigation conducted since 1991 on the issue of wartime comfort women. Later on, concrete steps were taken by the Japanese government that eventually led to creation of the Asian Women Fund. Through the AWF, victims of the comfort women system may apply for monetary and medical assistance from the Japanese government. (Vinuya, supra) To this end, the Philippine government in 1997 signed an agreement with the AWF for medical and welfare assistance for former Filipino comfort women. Since then, these programs were gradually implemented by the government through the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD).

To be continued...