Japan royals pay tribute to Philippine war dead

The Philippine Star

MANILA, Philippines – Japanese Emperor Akihito bowed his head in sorrow during a somber ceremony at the Philippines’ biggest war cemetery yesterday, but also enjoyed banter about cars, fashion, food and traffic on the first full day of a historic visit.

Akihito, 82, and his wife Empress Michiko, 81, arrived in the country Tuesday afternoon for a five-day state visit to mark the 60th anniversary of Philippine-Japanese diplomatic relations and to honor the war dead.

Akihito has made honoring Japanese and non-Japanese who died in World War II a touchstone of his nearly three-decade reign.

His visit is the first by a Japanese emperor to the Philippines and comes as the two countries fortify economic and defense ties, partly to counter China’s increasingly assertive actions in disputed regional waters.

The official events of his five-day trip began yesterday morning with a red-carpet welcome ceremony at Malacañang led by President Aquino.

After the welcome ceremony, Aquino introduced his Cabinet members to the imperial couple. Aquino then led the imperial couple to the Reception Hall for the signing of the Malacañang guestbook.

From the Reception Hall, the President escorted the royals to the Music Room for a private meeting.

“They talked about the Emperor’s previous visit to the Philippines, including Baguio and Tagaytay; heavier traffic volume in (the National Capital Region) due to increased automobile sales, mostly of Japanese make; and significant presence of Japanese retailer Uniqlo and the Heattech technology,” Presidential Communications Operations Office Secretary Herminio Coloma Jr. told reporters.

From the Palace, the imperial couple proceeded to Rizal Park for the wreath-laying ceremony at the Rizal Monument.

In the afternoon, the imperial couple visited the sprawling Libingan ng mga Bayani (Heroes’ Cemetery) in Taguig, which was built in 1947 to honor Filipino soldiers who died during World War II.

In the evening, Aquino hosted a state dinner for the visiting Japanese royalty and their delegation at 7:30 p.m. at the Rizal Hall of the Palace.

Comfort women demand justice

Outside the Palace, though, about 200 people rallied to demand justice for women who were forced into sexual slavery by occupying Japanese soldiers in World War II.

“To the emperor of Japan, talk to your leader about Filipina grandmothers who are fighting for their rights,” Narcisa Claveria, 85, one of seven former sex slaves at the protest, said over a megaphone.

Known as “comfort women,” they have long demanded a formal apology from Tokyo, compensation and inclusion of the atrocities in Japanese history books.

The Philippines endured brutal Japanese occupation during the war, which saw tens of thousands of soldiers die marching to Japanese concentration camps. An estimated 100,000 people also died during the month-long campaign to liberate Manila in 1945, which saw aerial bombings and gunfire flatten the city.

Akihito has also previously journeyed to other Pacific battle sites where Japanese troops and civilians made desperate last stands in the name of his father, the late Emperor Hirohito.

“The Emperor is emphasizing the importance of remembering the war, that we shouldn’t forget. That strong feeling is shared by Empress,” said Hatsuhisa Takashima, ambassador and press secretary to the Emperor of Japan, and special assistant to the minister for foreign affairs.

“He (Emperor) said it’s extremely important for the Japanese people and Japan as a nation so Japan will be contributing to the promotion of peace. He has personal memory of war. He appreciates the Filipino people who forgave Japan after experiencing hardships,” Takashima added.

Last battles fought in Ifugao

Other key symbolic event on Akihito’s agenda in the Philippines will be a visit on Friday to a shrine for Japanese casualties of the war in Caliraya, a lake resort village about three hours’ drive south of Manila.

Ifugao Rep. Teodoro Baguilat Jr. has also invited them to visit his province – one of the areas most affected by the war and where remains of Japanese soldiers were found – to “promote healing and goodwill.”

Baguilat said that with the 60th anniversary of the normalization of diplomatic relations between the Philippines and Japan, it would be fitting for Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko to bring their message of peace to Ifugao, where the last battles in the Philippines were fought.

On Sept. 2, 1945, Tomoyuki Yamashita, commander of the Japanese military in the Philippines, surrendered to Filipino and American forces in Kiangan town, marking the end of the Allied forces’ Philippine campaign.

The Kiangan War Memorial Shrine was erected in 1974 at the Home Economics building of the Kiangan Central School to mark the occasion of the surrender of Yamashita and his command staff.

Yamashita was brought the next day to Camp John Hay in Baguio City where he officially signed the surrender of the Japanese Imperial forces.

But the Philippines now views Japan, its biggest source of development aid and foreign investment, as a trusted ally.

“We would like them to come and see where war ended…They would also be pleased to see that the former enemies are now firm partners in development,” Baguilat said, noting Japan’s development assistance to Ifugao.

Japan’s development assistance to Ifugao cover, among others, maternal health improvement program, mini-hydro infrastructure deals and a multimillion-peso reforestation project.

“The emperor will see that the funds from the Japanese people are being used well and have had a positive impact on the province,” Baguilat said. – With Artemio Dumlao, Pia Lee-Brago

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