Sending the wrong signal
Had the Japanese embassy kept its mouth shut on the “comfort woman” statue, it could have gained the respect of Filipinos who have a broader understanding of history than those vociferous ideologues. Everybody knows that our people paid dearly for the defense of the Motherland. Yet, for all the bad memories that linger, nothing can be done to undo the atrocities committed by the invading Japanese Imperial Army. We can only write what the enemy did or erect a statue in memory of our brothers and sisters who died for us.
But what is appalling is the undiplomatic behavior of the Japanese embassy when it expressed “regret” for the rise of the “comfort woman” statue at Roxas Boulevard. It was reported that Japan’s Internal Affairs and Communications Minister Seiko Noda expressed her regret during her meeting with President Duterte. Before that, the Japanese embassy sought clarification on why the City of Manila allowed the statue to be erected, saying it has created a diplomatic row between the two countries.
Most disgusting is why the Department of Foreign Affairs has taken the cudgels for Japan in questioning the statue. Behaving in the usual servile errand boy, the DFA, as requested by Japan, asked the city government to explain how the statue came about when it has all the right to put up monuments. It even had the temerity to ask whether the statue has the permit of the National Historical Commission which was attended to by its chairman Rene Escalante and acting executive director Ludovico Badoy.
The show of displeasure by Japan is an open denial of that historical fact that its horde of invading soldiers forced our women to become sex slaves to give comfort and gratification to a battered and insecure army. The conduct of the Japanese embassy and Minister Seiko Noda indicated not only its refusal to pay reparations, but their absolute denial about the existence of comfort women. In that, it is not only the statue that they deny but the sexual depravity committed by their soldiers.
If we have to make a comparison of their treatment of the issue to countries where similar acts of barbarity was committed, it would surprise many why Japan’s Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi in 2002 wrote a personal letter to the South Korean people apologizing, saying it “was a grave affront to the honor and dignity of large numbers of women.” Nonetheless, Japan was made to pay approximately $9 million. Yet, it could not compel South Korea to close the issue. South Korean Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha said that Japan had failed to meet the victims’ needs.
In our case, Japan not only refused to pay compensation. It also refused to recognize that sexual enslavement was committed by their wartime government. Japan is using its financial leverage by threatening to cut off support to pending developmental projects. It forgot that it was Japan that requested the building of those war memorials, honoring those soldiers including those who committed crimes during the war in exchange for financial assistance, a consent that made us appear silly and stupid before the whole world.
Japan is so clever to make sure that the war memorials were erected at the behest of the Philippine government. They ignore that many of their economic assistance were war reparations for the destruction and atrocities committed during the war. The loans it extended were paid or are being paid with numerous strings attached and humbly accepted by us for want of bargaining leverage.
The five war memorials erected in honor of our invaders were: 1) The Kamikaze Peace Memorial Shrine in Mabalacat, Pampanga. Accordingly, the Mabalacat Tourism Office rationalized that the erection of a memorial is not for the glorification of the Kamikaze (suicide) pilots, but for the use of “war history” as a tool for the promotion of peace and friendship among nations. In Oct. 24, 2004, a life-size Kamikaze pilot statue was unveiled atop a tall pedestal in front of a wall showing the Japanese rising sun flag on the right half while the Philippine flag on the left half; 2) A Japanese Garden at Cavinti, Lumban, Laguna. It is a memorial park covering 11 hectares built by the Japanese government to commemorate Japanese soldiers who died during World War II. On Jan. 29, 2016, Japanese Emperor Akihito with Empress Michiko offered flowers at the marble altar located at the elevated portion of the garden; 3) Japanese Memorial Garden in Corregidor Island giving tribute to the 6,600 Japanese soldiers who died in the island subduing the remaining Filipino-American soldiers; 4) Japanese Shrine in Muntinlupa located at the end portion of the local cemetery in the National Penitentiary (New Bilibid Prison) dedicated to Japanese generals and soldiers including General Tomoyuki Yamashita, executed and buried in Muntinlupa, and 5) Japanese Soldiers’ Shrine in Bulacan, a 500-square meter compound at Don Pedro Street in Barangay Marulas, Valenzuela City.
Were these Japanese monuments and war memorials authorized by the National Historical Commission or simply worked out by the Japanese government with our officials tolerating them in exchange for the aid offer? The comfort women statue, which the Japanese government wants removed, represents the Filipino woman sexually enslaved by the Japanese soldiers while the war memorials represent the memory of those soldiers who invaded the country and possibly committed war crimes during the war.
The National Historical Commission can never be authorized to issue permit to foreign governments to erect statue of their own national, most especially if that represents one that committed crimes against the Filipino people pursuant of the wartime policy of their government.
By our own conduct, we are the ones distorting our own history, and that makes us appear utterly despicable and pathetic. We could not even make a protest to say that it is our right as sovereign state to erect monuments honoring our heroes, and we are duty-bound to preserve the idealism of those who sacrificed for us. Here we have statues and memorials honoring fictitious massacre victims in Corregidor, a statue of a comedian known for having several mistresses, a monument for known rebels but rebranded as “human rights victims,” and a husband and wife about to do their last tango for their coup d’ etat relabeled as “people power.” All these monuments indicate that we as people do not understand what they represent.