DAVAO CITY (MindaNews / 30 April) — In January this year, President Rodrigo Duterte acknowledged Japan as the largest contributor of aid to the Philippines and thanked it for its many contributions to the country but on the issue of the then newly-installed ‘Comfort Women’ monument along the baywalk of Roxas Boulevard in Metro Manila, for which the Japanese government expressed regret, Duterte said he cannot stop the relatives or the surviving ‘comfort women’ from exercising their constitutional right to express their sentiments through the statue.
He told MindaNews at the Presidential Guest House in Panacan on January 12 that when the Japanese Minister of Internal Affairs and Communication Seiko Noda paid a courtesy call on him in Malacanang on January 9, he informed her that he “cannot stop the relatives or even the comfort women still living, from their freedom to express what they are expressing through the statue.”
“That is a constitutional right which I cannot stop. It’s prohibitive for me to do that,” he said.
President Rodrigo Duterte on Comfort Women monument, January 12, 2018.
When the President arrived at the Davao International Airport from Singapore in the early hours of April 29 and was asked to comment on the April 27 evening removal of the monument, he replied, “Whose initiative was it? I really do not know. I don’t even know that it exists.”
Even as he denied its existence, Duterte’s succeeding statements acknowledged it. He said the monument “created somehow a bad” but did not complete his sentence.
He suggested that the monument be moved elsewhere.
“You can place it somewhere else. If you want to place in a private property, fine. But do not use… Because that issue for… insofar as I’m concerned, tapos na ‘yan” (that’s over), he said.
The President said the Japanese “has paid early for that,” that reparation “started many years ago so huwag na lang natin insultuhin” (so let’s not insult them).
In a statement, Gabriela party list Representative Emmi de Jesus said the statue’s removal “constitutes a blatant insult to all women victimized by Japanese forces during World War II who are denied justice up to now.”
If on private property, fine
At the airport here on April 29, Duterte said that “if there is what you would call a memorial for an injustice committed at one time, it’s all right but do not use — it is not the policy of government to antagonize other nation. But if is erected in a private property, fine. We will honor it. And the Japanese government and people would understand it that there is democracy here, freedom of expression is very important,” Duterte said.
“But do not use government because it would reflect now on — kung ginusto ba natin (if we wanted it). It’s practically the same in South Korea, ‘yung comfort women. Pero so much water has passed,” he said.
“Masakit kasi uli- ulitin mo na tuloy (It’s painful if you keep repeating it). And you start to imagine how they were treated badly. But Japan has apologized to the Filipinos. And they have certainly made much more than… in terms of reparation,” he said.
He said there is a Japanese Shrine in Tugbok which “I built” for “those Japanese who never went back, who did not make it back home, this is a memorial. Ganon rin. Just the same. It’s part of history.”
‘Comfort women’ were forced to work as sex slaves of Japanese occupation troops during World War II. Lila Pilipina documented 174 “comfort women” who had gone public and demanded justice since the early 1990s.
The two-meter tall bronze sculpture of a blindfolded woman wearing a Filipiniana dress was unveiled at the Roxas Boulevard baywalk on December 8 last year. The US and Japanese embassies are located along the boulevard.
The National Historical Commission of the Philippines’ (NHCP) inscription on the monumentsaid it symbolizes Filipino women who suffered abuses during the Japanese occupation from 1942 to 1945.
“This monument is a memorial to Filipino women who have been victims of abuse during the Japanese occupation (1942-1945). Several years passed before they testified about their experience,” the marker, written in Filipino, read.
On January 12, Duterte told MindaNews the Japanese government expressed regret about the monument but did not demand its removal.
He said removing the statue was up to Manila Mayor and former Philippine President Joseph Estrada. “Bahala siya” (It’s up to him).
Duterte said then that the issue “has not been raised to national policy” and that government was “buta, bungol” (blind and deaf) about its installation.
He reiterated Japan had always been coming to the aid of the Philippines, referring to it as “the largest contributor of aids,” including funds to build airports.
Duterte considers Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe his close friend. Last year, Abe and his wife even had breakfast in Duterte’s residence.
Duterte said on January 12 that the monument issue had “not been raised to national policy.” On April 29, he said “it is not the policy of government to antagonize other nation.”
While Duterte told MindaNews late afternoon of January 12 that he had explained his stand to the Japanese minister and that he invoked the constitutional right of the relatives of ‘comfort women’ and those still living, Foreign Affairs Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano announced in Manila earlier that afternoon, that they were forming an inter-agency group to look into the ‘Comfort Women’ statue.
GMA7 News quoted Cayetano as saying he cannot disclose the Department of Foreign Affairs’ recommendation as the fact-finding process was ongoing, but hinted that the construction of the statue “will really affect certain feelings and relationships.”
“I don’t think it will be good,” Cayetano said, but added that the DFA’s position is “always based on Filipino interest.”
The Philippine Daily Inquirer on December 20 last year quoted Manila City Administrator Jojo Alcovendaz as saying that it was the NHCP that allowed a foundation to erect the statue commissioned by Tulay Foundation, a Manila-based group composed of members of the Chinese-Filipino community. It was unveiled on Dec. 8 by officials led by NHCP executive director Ludovico Badoy. Alcovendaz represented Mayor Estrada during the event.
While an investigation was launched after the statue’s installation, an investigation is now being called after its removal.
In a statement on April 29, Gabriela Women’s Party called for an investigation of what it denounced as “sneaky, ‘ninja’ removal” of the statue, asserting that the move “points to the obliteration of Japan’s gross and systemic sexual abuse of Filipino women in our history.”
Gabriela Rep. Arlene Brosas said it is a “shameful hallmark of a foreign policy that kowtows to foreign powers but treats foreign rights advocates like Sr. Patricia Fox harshly.”
“We will file a House resolution to push a probe as to who are behind this cowardly act. We are not buying the excuse that the removal of the statue was done to give way to a drainage improvement project,” she added.
The ‘Comfort Women’ statue was removed along with two other statues along the baywalk evening of April 27 by the Department of Public Works and Highways “to give way for the improvement of Roxas (Boulevard) Baywalk Area.” (Carolyn O. Arguillas / MindaNews)