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Increased militarisation will mean more comfort women

MANILA (UCAN): Eighty-five-year-old Narcisa Claveria has spent two decades fighting for justice over horrors she suffered as a teenage sex slave for Japanese troops during the Second World War.

Now the feisty grandmother has begun a new battle; fighting the Philippine president, Noynoy Aquino, over his move to forge stronger links between the military and Japan, in addition to a new deal to host eight new United States of America (US) military bases.

“I may be old, but I will fight against these plans,” Claveria vowed on February 9 at the launch of the 2016 One Billion Rising Campaign that focusses on the plight of marginalised and abused women. 

She said that fostering stronger ties with the Japanese military is simply giving a reward to an institution that once enslaved Filipino women to serve the needs of their war machine.

Claveria, one of the dwindling number of remaining former comfort women, spoke strongly against Aquino’s silence on the issue of Filipino sex slaves during the recent visit of the Japanese emperor, Akihito.

She challenged the president to imagine his sisters experiencing the same degradation.

“If the same things happened to his sisters—rape, being forced to cook or be beaten up if you refused to open your legs for Japanese soldiers, how would he feel?” she queried.

Former Filipino comfort women entered the spotlight in the 1990s when Rosa Henson, who became a guerrilla for the leftist Hukbalahap group that fought the occupation and post-war government after her traumatic experience at the hands of the Japanese, first shared her story.

Four hundred other women, who had borne their trauma in silence for decades, also stepped forward.

Despite the pledges of help by a series of Philippine presidents, the women of Lila Pilipina—a group of surviving comfort women—have never received an apology from the Japanese government, which continues to wash its hands of the atrocities heaped on an estimated 200,000 Asian and some European women.

The group lost a suit it filed in Tokyo, when the court ruled that what they were seeking were matters best left to states. Its members also turned down offers of aid, because Japanese citizens, not the government, would have footed the bill, and because of the lack of a formal apology.

Although US soldiers fought with Filipinos against the Japanese during World War II, Claveria said that the former colonial master of her country also encouraged the prostitution of women on the fringes of its former military bases in Subic Bay, Olongapo City and Clark Air Force Base in Pampanga.

“Maybe they didn’t train a gun on those women, but they exploited their poverty,” Claveria commented. “They had middle men to coerce and threaten the women. They were also comfort women. Entire towns also catered to the sexual needs of American soldiers. How many thousands of children did they abandon?”

Pearl S. Buck International estimates there are 52,000 Amerasian (Asian born to a US military father) in the country.

The foundation tries to unite them with their fathers, resettle them in the US or help them with their education needs in The Philippines.

Claveria said the Philippine government, Japan and the US “are just waiting for all of us to die so no one remembers anymore the sins of the past.”

Citing reports against Serbian troops and military forces during the war in Kosovo, the coordinator of Lila Pilipina, Richie Extramadura, said sexual slavery is now considered a war crime.

“But it seems the world wants to forget the comfort women of World War II,” she said, adding that the Philippine government is partly to blame, as it has never taken up the cudgels for surviving comfort women.

Extramadura said that during congressional hearings, Philippine diplomats pointed to the country’s economic ties with Japan. “They keep saying, don’t tip the balance at the expense of Filipino women. The Japanese, on the other hand, still pretend it was all just an unfortunate result of conflict, instead of admitting that their government deliberately created the system to serve the needs of invading troops.”

Claveria expressed bitterness over the recent visit of the Japanese emperor, saying neither Aquino nor his guest acknowledged the comfort woman issue. “(The emperor) could mention our bad traffic, but not comfort women. He paid his respects to dead soldiers, but not the living that continue to suffer.”

The warrior for justice said her remaining years would also be dedicated to blocking new arrangements that could suck in thousands of a new generation of Filipino women into becoming chattels for foreign armies.

 

“My voice is all I have,” Claveria said. “It will only be silenced once they carry me to my grave.”

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