PIKAS-BALAY: Abroad but home. By Anabelle Ragsag and Cy Rago

By Anabelle Ragsag and Cy Rago

CAIRO (MindaNews/30 October) — Homesickness is perhaps not as bad as it used to be, given the benefits provided by the internet to get in touch with loved ones and friends.   For the Pinoy diaspora activists among us, there is also the net to whip up involvement on issues that matter – regardless of one’s distance from home.

One of the issues that gripped the country in recent weeks is the plagiarism brouhaha between two respectable institutions in the country: the Supreme Court and the UP College of Law.

While many concerned Pinoys have voiced their support for the beleaguered law professors, others thought that there is a need to look beyond the plagiarism issue. And bring the attention back to the comfort women themselves whose case started this controversy.  Called comfort women, the phrase is a translation of the Japanese phrase jugun ianfu.

These Facebook supporters of our collective Lolas started a viral campaign on the struggle for justice of the women who were victims of Japanese military sexual slavery during World War II.  Mostly graduate students from abroad, they have set up the I Support the Lolas Quest for Justice, which calls for President Noynoy Aquino to take up the cause of the comfort women with or without a Supreme Court decision compelling him to act.  President Noynoy is due to visit Japan, after all, for the APEC summit in November.

Some Mindanawons might not be aware of it, but there were six recorded comfort stations in the island of Mindanao during the Japanese occupation.  According to the Asian Women’s Fund, one was in Butuan, three in Cagayan de Oro, one each in Dansalan and Davao.

While some of us might know how our own parents and grandparents dreaded the invading Japanese military because of stories of harassment and rape, we probably seldom heard about the stories of “comfort women”.  It’s understandable given that the first Filipino comfort woman only came out and publicly told her story in 1992, some fifty years after the occupation.

Lola Rosa Henson courageously described how she brutally and painfully suffered under the Japanese Imperial Army’s systematic sexual enslavement of women through the establishment of comfort stations.  When the campaign was launched in the 1990s to set up a Task Force on Comfort Women, there were about 160 comfort women who publicly came out following the footsteps of Lola Rosa.

Undoubtedly, this number is only a fraction of the actual number of survivors and most of them came from the Luzon area.  We wonder if there were Lolas from Mindanao who were reached by the campaign and were encouraged to come out as well.

However, as their struggle for justice drags on, a number of these comfort women, must have passed away already because of old age just like some of the Lolas who came out and filed the case against Japan.   In fact, of the 70 Lolas who filed the case in 2004 asking the Supreme Court to compel the Executive Branch to take the cudgels for them against Japan, twelve of them have since died including one lola who died while the plagiarism issue was being debated.

Should we wait for them to all die before justice is served to them?

The I Support the Lolas Quest for Justice team challenges President Aquino to take these Lolas’ issue when he visits Japan this November for the APEC Meeting.   And the team also challenges us all Mindanawons abroad, and Filipinos abroad in general, to take part in this case.

The team also hopes to generate discussion in this matter by asking:

What should PNoy demand from Japan?

What exactly do the comfort women demand from Japan that President Noynoy Aquino should discuss with Japanese officials when he visits Japan in November?

In our petition, we say comfort women demand that Japan “sincerely apologize” and “make amends by providing just compensation” to the comfort women. We can make these demands more concrete/specific.

We are of course aware of the following facts:

1. Several Japanese Prime Ministers have already made public apologies on behalf of Japan for atrocities committed to the comfort women. However, the sincerity of the apologies is constantly put in doubt by contradictory actuations and remarks by right-wing elements in the Japanese government. For example, recently, there was a controversy over Japanese history textbooks because the Japanese Department of Education deleted references to Japanese military sexual slavery during WWII.

2. Efforts have been made to compensate the comfort women through the Asian Women’s Fund (AWF). However, the AWF was widely criticized as inadequate (the “atonement” compensation was 2 million yen per person, or about 20,000 USD), and also because the funding was sourced from the private sector not the government.

Hence, when we say we demand for a “sincere apology” we do not mean another public apology from Japan. Instead, what we ask is for Japan to show or exhibit sincerity in its past apologies. PNoy can demand from Japanese officials to refrain from behaving in a manner contradictory to apologies previously given, e.g., refrain from making offensive remarks denying the atrocities against comfort women.

Regarding compensation, while we are aware of the AWF, it has to be said that this is not acceptable to ALL the lolas. Therefore, Japanese officials must continue to listen to the comfort women on this point. If they are sincere in their apologies, they must keep an open ear to what the lolas consider as just compensation.

What else do you think should PNoy bring up with Japanese officials?

So are you a Mindanawon abroad, but whose heart, eyes and ears are still home? Visit the I Support the Lolas Quest for Justice. Sign the online petition, if you have not yet, and share with your network.

(Mindanawon Abroad is MindaNews’ way of linking with fellow Mindanawons abroad who wants to share his/her experience in his/her hometown in Mindanao or where he/she is currently based abroad. Anabelle Ragsag, a native of Panabo, Davao del Norte currently lives in Cairo, studying Arabic while revising her PhD in Development Studies dissertation in Germany.  Cy Rago, originally from Butuan, is a scholar of the Erasmus Mundus programme in Europe on Women and Gender Studies. She is currently based in Tromso, Norway. )