Duterte backs removal of comfort woman statue

Alexis Romero (The Philippine Star) - April 30, 2018 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines — President Duterte yesterday defended the removal of the statue depicting a comfort woman along Roxas Boulevard in Manila amid protests from cause-oriented groups.

Duterte said the statue should not be placed on a government property so as not to insult the Japanese. 

“We can place it somewhere else. If you want to place it in a private property, fine. Insofar as I am concerned, tapos na iyan (that’s over),” he said.

“The Japanese have paid dearly for that. The reparation started many years ago. Let us not insult them. It is not the policy of the government to antagonize other nations,” he added. 

Duterte said placing the statue on a private property would not stir controversy because it would be covered by freedom of expression. 

“If it is erected on a private property, we will honor it. The Japanese government and people would understand it that there is democracy here, freedom of expression is important,” the President said.  

Duterte said Japan, which occupied the Philippines from 1942 to 1945, has apologized to the Filipinos for its actions during World War II.

“They have certainly made much more than that in terms of reparation,” he said.

The two-meter-high bronze statue was unveiled last December by the National Historical Commission of the Philippines (NHCP) along Roxas Boulevard with the support of a Chinese-Filipino group. It depicted a blindfolded woman who symbolized Filipinas who were forced to work in military brothels during the Japanese occupation of the Philippines. 

The Philippine government notified the Japanese embassy in Manila prior to the removal of the statue.

In January, Internal Affairs and Communications Minister Seiko Noda visited Duterte to express displeasure over the memorial.

Removal stirs protest

Members of cause-oriented groups protested the unannounced removal of the comfort woman statue.

“It was a desecration of Filipino women’s dignity as it casts an insult on Filipina sex slaves victimized under the Japanese occupation,” women’s rights group Gabriela said.

Gabriela party-list Rep. Luzviminda Ilagan called for an inquiry into the matter.

“We will seek an investigation to find out who are behind this and make them accountable,” Ilagan told reporters.

She described those responsible for the removal of the statue as thieves, saying the memorial is protected by Philippine laws for its historical value.

Teresita Ang-See, who chairs the Movement for Restoration of Peace and Order, raised the possibility that the government was pressured by Japan to remove the statue.

The Japanese, on the other hand, reportedly sense a Chinese hand in the installation of the statue.

Ang-See said she received information that the Department of Public Works and Highways was “pressured” by the Japanese embassy into removing the statue to give way to a flood control project by the DPWH.

Officials of the Japanese embassy and the DPWH supposedly held a meeting in January this year.

Ang-See said they have been on the lookout after a backhoe was positioned near the statue on April 20.

She said they were caught by surprise upon learning that the memorial was removed on Friday night.

“The DPWH told us there was an order to remove the statue for a drainage improvement project in the area,” she said.

According to Gabriela, the removal of the statue insulted the memory of women who suffered during the war.

Rep. Arlene Brosas also of Gabriela echoed Ilagan’s statement.

“We will file a resolution in the House of Representatives calling for an investigation into the removal of the statue. We are not buying the excuse that it was done to give way to a drainage improvement project,” she said.

Brosas’ colleague in the party-list group, Rep. Emmi de Jesus, said those involved in the removal of the statue should be held liable.

 “Why was the removal done overnight, apparently with the permission of the local government? Was the NHCP notified?” she said. 

 De Jesus said the removal of the statue is a blatant insult to the surviving comfort women.

Around 1,000 Filipinos served as comfort women during the Japanese occupation. There are only 10 comfort women aged over 90 years old who are still alive.  – With Emmanuel Tupas, Delon Porcalla

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