PH still to comply with UN ruling on ‘comfort women’
CITY OF SAN FERNANDO, Pampanga, Philippines — The Philippine government has yet to compensate or apologize to a group of elderly Filipino women, six months after the United Nations found that it failed to redress their discrimination and suffering from sexual abuses by the Imperial Japanese Army during World War II.
What has been given so far to 20 living “Malaya Lolas” (Free Grandmothers) was P20,000 each, given in two tranches last May and on Sept. 18 under the assistance to persons in conflict program of the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD), according to lawyer Virginia Lacsa Suarez, chair of the women’s group Kaisa.
Kaisa is helping the elderly women in their clamor for justice. The women were dubbed “comfort women” as they were held as prisoners and repeatedly molested by Japanese soldiers in so-called comfort stations, including one in San Ildefonso town in Bulacan.
The program’s second grant of P10,000 each was released to the elderly women or their kin on Monday at the barangay hall of Mapaniqui village in Candaba town of Pampanga.
The relatives of dead Malaya Lolas are also entitled to get educational and livelihood assistance, Suarez said.
DSWD personnel at the site declined to talk beyond the cash grants.
“This is not yet in compliance with the decision of the UN Cedaw [Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women] on March 8,” said Suarez in a phone interview on Monday.
The 20 living Malaya Lolas are what remained of the 24 old women who filed their complaints before the United Nations in 2019 after Philippine courts declined to help their group of 96 women seek reparation and a formal apology from Japan since they spoke of their ordeal in 1996.
The imperial army attacked Mapaniqui, a suspected lair of anti-Japanese Hukbong Bayan Laban sa Hapon (Hukbalahap) guerrillas, on Nov. 23, 1944, killing many men and boys by stabbing them with bayonets or burning them.
Women and girls were forced to carry the Japanese soldiers’ loot and were herded to the red-brick mansion Bahay na Pula, a garrison-cum-comfort station in nearby Barangay Anyatam in Bulacan’s San Ildefonso town.
Most of the living ones are in their 90s and bedridden.
Maria Quilantang Lalu, Malaya Lolas president, repeated her view that the cash grant was a “step to justice” and urged President Marcos to order compliance with the UN recommendations.
The case of the Malaya Lolas would be part of the report of the Commission on Human Rights to the United Nations in October, Suarez said.
In a 19-page decision released in March, Cedaw noted that the Philippines had “waived its right to compensation by signing the Treaty of Peace with Japan.”
“It, however, underlined that it is a case of continuous discrimination. The committee observed that the Philippine Commission on Women had not addressed the institutionalized system of wartime sexual slavery, its consequences for victims and survivors or their protection needs.”
Cedaw added: “In contrast, Philippine war veterans, who are mostly men, are entitled to special and esteemed treatment from the government, such as educational benefits, health-care benefits, old age, disability and death pensions.”
The committee concluded that the Philippines had “breached its obligations under the Convention,” adding that in particular, the committee found that the government “had 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.”
It then requested that the Philippines “provide the victims full reparation, including material compensation and an official apology for the continuing discrimination.”