Whatever happened to the Comfort Women statue on Roxas Boulevard? | Lifestyle.INQ

OCTOBER 27, 2022

Whatever happened to the Comfort Women statue on Roxas Boulevard?
The now-missing Comfort Women statue —PHOTOS FROM WIKIMEDIA COMMONS/RYOMA ANDRES
Whatever happened to the Comfort Women statue on Roxas Boulevard?
The now-missing Comfort Women statue —PHOTOS FROM WIKIMEDIA COMMONS/RYOMA ANDRES

An American-period bahay na bato erected by the Ilusorio family in Anyatam, San Ildefonso, Bulacan, stands as a mute witness to the atrocities committed by the Japanese forces toward women during World War II.

That house, popularly known now as Bahay na Pula and partially demolished, was where women were raped and forced to become sex slaves, a serious case of human rights violations not exclusive to the Philippines, as these also happened in other countries such as Vietnam, China and Korea.

In 2017, as a memorial to these women, the Filipino Comfort Women statue was erected at a section of the Baywalk on Roxas Boulevard in Manila.

A multisectoral project, the bronze statue was removed in April the following year, supposedly to give way to a drainage project, but critics had said the removal was due to pressure from the Japanese government and concern from the Department of Foreign Affairs, particularly over Philippine bilateral relations with Japan.

The monument was unveiled with a marker from the National Historical Commission of the Philippines (NHCP) which, in English, states carefully that “this monument is a memorial to Filipino women who were victims here in the Philippines during the Japanese occupation (1942–1945). It took a long time before they testified and gave their statements on their ordeal.”

As a marked monument, it is a presumed important cultural property under the 2009 heritage law and should be protected against damage and demolition.

In 2019, then-NHCP chair Rene Escalante said his agency “has no jurisdiction over the statue because it is owned by Tulay Foundation,” which spearheaded the project.

Following its removal, the statue was taken to the studio of its artist Jonas Roces in Antipolo but was allegedly stolen, as reported in 2021.

It was supposed to be installed at Redemptorist Church in Baclaran, Parañaque, in August 2021, but is nowhere to be found.


Whatever happened to the Comfort Women statue on Roxas Boulevard?
Bahay na Pula


In a blow to the country’s response to protecting the rights of these women, in March, the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (Cedaw) released a decision that the Philippines violated the rights of these women by failing to address their concerns.

This decision stemmed from a complaint in 2019 filed by Malaya Lolas, a group supporting the Filipino comfort women.

Cedaw said the country “failed to adopt appropriate legislative and other measures to prohibit all discrimination against women, and protect women’s rights on an equal basis with men.”

Its member Marion Bethel further said that “this case demonstrates that minimizing or ignoring sexual violence against women and girls in war and conflict situations is, indeed, another egregious form of violation of women’s rights.”

She added, “We hope that the committee’s decision serves to restore human dignity for all of the victims, both deceased and living.”

According to Teresita Ang See of Tulay Foundation and Flowers for Lolas Campaign, the same resolution “orders the government to put shrines and commemorate comfort women.”

In a press conference held during the recent visit of Japan Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, See said the latter, a multisectoral group, was formed in 2018 “to protest against the Philippine government succumbing to Japanese pressure, which removed the Comfort Women statue.”

See said that until now, their efforts to retrieve that statue were unsuccessful, but “we are happy that the removal of that statue gave us a chance to increase awareness on the issue of comfort women that our Philippine government refused to recognize and acknowledge.”

She called on both the Philippine and Japanese governments to recognize these women and make reparations, and pleaded to the former to return the statue to them.

“We allowed Japan to put up memorials and shrines honoring their dead soldiers who killed, tortured, raped our men, women, children. We allow them to put up these shrines and statues; however, why can the government not put up shrines and memorials recognizing our own comfort women? It is not unfair, it is just to implement the Cedaw resolution,” she said.

See said the government should act now because “one by one, the lolas, in their 90s, are dying.”

Meanwhile, Lila Pilipina, in a message to Lifestyle, said the removal of the statue “is not only an insult to the victims but also destroys people’s rights to free speech and the Filipino’s rights to know their history.”

The group calls for the return of the statue on Roxas Boulevard, which was dismantled days before the Asian Development Bank Summit in April 2018.

Whatever happened to the Comfort Women statue on Roxas Boulevard?
Press conference of Lila Filipina with Teresita Ang See (second from right)—LILA PILIPINA FACEBOOK PAGE

Global statues

Apart from the Philippines, statues for comfort women were erected in many other countries.

This include the Statue of Peace in South Korea which was completed in 2011 and erected in front of the Japanese embassy in Seoul.

This statue was replicated and later installed in Melbourne in Australia; Berlin in Germany; and in Glendale, California. The latter is also called the Peace Monument of Glendale.A Comfort Women Memorial, featuring statues of teenage Chinese, Korean and Filipino girls and a Korean grandmother, was erected in San Francisco, also in California, in 2017.

In Palisades Park, New Jersey, a brass plaque was installed in 2012 in memory of these women, while in Hackensack, also in New Jersey, another comfort women memorial was unveiled the following year.In Hong Kong, three comfort women statues installed in 2017 near the Japanese consulate were removed in 2021. These statues were erected on the occasion of the 80th anniversary of the Sino-Japanese War.

Liwasang Bonifacio

In the Philippines, the statue on Roxas Boulevard is not the only memorial to the Filipino comfort women.

On April 22, 2003, then Manila Mayor Lito Atienza unveiled a marker at Liwasang Bonifacio fronting the Manila Post Office Building, with the inscription, “In Memory of the Victims of Military Sexual Slavery During the Second World War.”

Whatever happened to the Comfort Women statue on Roxas Boulevard?
Historical marker of the Bahay na Pula

The marker states that “during the Japanese occupation of the Philippines, approximately 1,000 women became victims of military sexual slavery by the Japanese Imperial army.”

It notes that “all over the country, these ‘comfort stations’ or sites were where the institutional and organized rape and abuse of women by the Japanese military were committed.”

It likewise states that “though this historical marker, a memorialization of the history of the women victims will be achieved in the hope that this tragedy will never happen again and that henceforth, no generation of Filipino victims will never be memorialized as victims of military sexual slavery.”

Another comfort women memorial was erected by human rights activist Nelia Sancho at her property on Boracay Island.

This memorial, built in reaction to the Roxas Boulevard removal, features two bronze statues of women in Filipiniana attire encircled by a red ribbon with a bird, symbolizing peace, clinging to the dress of one. —Contributed 

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