Not lost after all

COMMONSENSE - Marichu A. Villanueva (The Philippine Star) - May 11, 2018 - 12:00am

Where is now the Comfort Women statue that was removed last month from Roxas Boulevard? We solved the mystery behind the erection and subsequent removal of the Comfort Women statue in our weekly Kapihan sa Manila Bay breakfast forum last Wednesday.

 Our Kapihan sa Manila Bay that we hold every Wednesday at Cafe Adriatico in Remedios Circle in Malate became a venue that unraveled the mysterious disappearance of the statue. Nearly igniting a full-blown diplomatic controversy, the office of Manila Mayor Joseph Estrada once again prevented an disruption of friendly ties with our neighbors in Asia – Japan and China – that were almost drawn into renewed feud over the missing Comfort Women statue.

The term “comfort women” was Japan’s euphemism for Asian women who were forced to work in its wartime brothels. Through the years, Japan apologizes to the women and other victims of World War II, and provided funds to help them. 

Through Manila City Administrator Erickson “Jojo” Alcovendaz, the city government reassured everyone concerned that the revered Comfort Women statue has been in the safe hands of its sculptor Jonas Roces after it was removed from its site last April 27. The city government asked Roces to repair the damaged portions sustained by the statue when this was removed allegedly under the cover of darkness. According to Alcovendaz, the statue was donated to the city government of Manila and therefore it owns the statue.

Incidentally, it was also Alcovendaz who represented the city government when the statue was unveiled in December last year. Alcovendaz recalled having asked the people behind the project during the unveiling rites if they have sought the approval from the Office of the President. Having once worked at the Office of the Executive Secretary, Alcovendaz was wary about the possible diplomatic complications of the statue that depicts Filipinas who became sex slaves during the Japanese occupation while WW II was raging in the Philippines.

True enough, the Japanese government through their embassy in Manila lodged a diplomatic protest to both Malacanang and the Manila City Hall. The Japanese embassy lodged their formal concern to the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA). Incidentally, both the DFA and the Japanese embassy are also located along Roxas Boulevard in the area of Pasay City.

As it turned out, Alcovendaz disclosed, the Comfort Women statue was just one of the three landmarks that were removed from where they originally stood along Roxas Boulevard to give way to drainage project of the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH). A family statue dubbed as “Unang Hakbang” depicting a family of OFWs and the seamen’s marker were also removed from the same area.

In a statement, DPWH confirmed it was their agency that removed the three structures one after the other “to give way for the improvement of Roxas (Boulevard) Baywalk Area.” The “DPWH will be constructing a lateral drainage at Roxas Blvd. southbound near President Quirino Ave. Reinforced concrete pipes will be installed at that area considered as the lowest elevation in Roxas Blvd. Such RC pipes will be directed for an outfall to Manila Bay,” it said, adding, “At least two more footbridges will be installed across Roxas Boulevard, one at CCP Central Bank and another at Pres. Quirino area.”

Leading the search for the sudden disappearance of the statue is foremost anti-kidnapping advocate Teresita Ang-See whose Tulay Foundation was among those that funded the construction of the statue. According to Ang-See, the statue of Comfort Women was commissioned and funded also by the direct descendants of Comfort Women who included Chinese women in Pampanga and Iloilo where they were raped and turned into sex slaves during WW II. 

While they may have Chinese blood, Ang-See turned passionate in defending the Flowers for Lolas Campaign to recover and restore the statue in its rightful place. Ang-See insisted the statue stands as a symbol of the bravery, resilience and honor of Filipina Comfort Women against foreign oppression.

Ang-See told us she earlier met and talked with Mayor Estrada at Manila City Hall and reminded the former president about his cause in defending Filipina womenhood  in the movie entitled “Sa Kuko ng Agila” that the latter produced and was the lead actor. From Google, the 1989 movie was described as based on a real story, a mini-bus driver Tonyo (played by Estrada) and Cristy (ex-Sen.Nikki Coseteng) depicting Olongapo City as a red light district where Filipina women were drawn into prostitution when the US naval base in Subic was still there. 

At the end of our weekly Kapihan sa Manila Bay breakfast forum, the controversial Comfort Women statue was amicably resolved by our panel guests who all agreed to come to a meeting of minds. As the City administrator, Alcovendaz offered the Manila City Hall as the venue to thresh out the matter in the presence of Mayor Estrada, with representatives from the Office of the President, the DFA; the DPWH; the National Historical Commission of the Philippines (NHCP) and from Tulay Foundation, Lila Filipinas, Gabriela and other members of the Flowers for Lolas Campaign.

Ironically, however, the Comfort Women statue was put up close to the public comfort room at the Baywalk side of Roxas Boulevard.

Had they consulted first with City Hall, this furor would not have happened. Mayor Estrada earlier relocated the statue of the late President Elpidio Quirino (previously inside the Ospital ng Maynila) to the corner of Quirino Avenue and Roxas Boulevard. The Marcelo H. Del Pilar statue (formerly at Remedios Circle) was moved over to the corner where Quirino Avenue merges with M.H. Del Pilar St.

For that reason alone, the Comfort Women statue deserves to be moved to a better location for public display. Now that we all know it was not lost after all, leave it to Mayor Estrada to find the best spot to place the Comfort Women statue to represent his dream to restore the city of Manila as the Pearl of the Orient Seas.

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