February may be a month of love for many or a time for celebrating the upcoming lunar new year this year. But it is also a month of tragedy as we remember that dark chapter in history that was the Battle of Manila which happened 73 years ago.
The Battle of Manila and the greater historical context that was the period of Japanese occupation in the Philippines from 1942 to 1945 has been considered as a part of history that people would rather forget. Part of that tragic tale is the story of the comfort women, young women in Japanese-controlled areas who were forced by the Japanese soldiers to be their sex slaves.
Last December, in memory of them and other women who suffered during the Japanese occupation, a monument was unveiled at the southern end of the Roxas Boulevard Baywalk. Depicting a blindfolded woman expressing worry and fear as to what will happen to her, the 7-foot bronze monument was seen at first as just another monument and World War II memorial, as with the many Memorare monuments in the city in remembrance of the war.
However, the Japanese Embassy in Manila thought otherwise and took offense that such a thing exists.
The monument was built largely through the efforts of the Filipino-Chinese organization Tulay. While the monument was largely a private effort, the National Historical Commission of the Philippines (NHCP) lent support as well, as the presence of an NHCP marker would attest.
The monument also holds the distinction for being the first monument dedicated to the Filipina comfort women. Though there is a comfort women marker located at Liwasang Bonifacio, it was not prominently seen. It can be said that the monument was a more proper and long overdue memorial for what has been considered a forgotten aspect of the war. And until now, it is said that they still await at least a formal, symbolic recognition from their abusers through the Japanese government.
But if you ask the Japanese government, their argument is that Japan already said sorry and paid for reparations so what more do they need to do? As far as they are concerned, the monuments are seen as an act of bringing back old wounds which should not be brought up again since they consider the matter already closed after all the apologies and regrets they have made in the already.
A complicated “apology”
One thing to know is that Japan has this complicated and complicated policy in relation to its role in World War II. At different points in time since the war ended, the Japanese government either issued an apology or regret for actions during the war. In fact, it also paid reparations in millions of dollars to the countries affected by Japan’s actions during the war. As far as Japan is concerned, these actions should be enough evidence that it deeply regrets and is apologizing (sort of) for its wartime actions.
However, some Japanese leaders would visit the controversial Yasukuni Shrine which has enshrined convicted war criminals during the war, a move some critics. There is also the textbook controversy in which Japanese history books are allegedly whitewashed to at least downplay the country’s role in the war. For critics, this is seen as proof that Japan is being “two-faced” and insincere in addressing its role in the war. In return,
Sadly, it is an argument that has went on for a long time with no resolution in sight in the near future. As of late, attempts were made to force the issue of Japan’s World War II guilt, particularly with regards to the comfort women. In the cities of Seoul and Busan, statues honoring the comfort women were installed right in front of the Japanese diplomatic missions in those cities, a move that led to the brief recall of the Japanese ambassador to South Korea. San Francisco in the United States also has its own comfort women statue, prompting the junking of the sister city agreement San Francisco had with the Japanese city of Osaka.
The DFA weighs in
Taking those matters into account, the response of the Japanese embassy regarding comfort women monument in Manila should be no surprise. And apparently, this response has been a cause of concern by the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) which has decided to look into the issue in the interest of Philippine-Japanese relations with the concern that the monument may jeopardize the relation of the two countries.
On one hand, the DFA has the right to be concerned considering the deep ties already in place between Japan and the Philippines, which has been the cornerstone behind various projects in the country like the Mega Manila Subway. As far as the DFA is concerned, there is a possibility that the monument may pose as a risk that may adversely affect future plans that involve both countries, something the DFA does not want to risk losing.
As expected, DFA’s move was not seen as favorable, especially among the monument’s advocates and supporters, saying the DFA should maintain its assertiveness against the demands of the Japanese government.
As the controversy continues to rage, there have been calls for President Rodrigo Duterte to get involved and resolve the matter, hoping he will favor a side. However, Pres. Duterte has stated he will not get involved in the matter as it is not a diplomatic issue. Instead, he has left it to the people who helped get the monument built to do what they think is right.
As it stands at the moment, the issue seems to have subsided for now. But until the monument remains standing, it is almost certain it will continue to be a sore point particularly for the Japanese embassy. Whether this will have any repercussions remain to be seen. For now, the monument still stands, still uncertain as to what her fate may be.
Acknowledgements as well to Reuters and Philippine Star