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Removal of ‘comfort woman’ statue draws protest

As Roxas Boulevard bathed in the early morning light on Saturday, vendors and passersby noticed a conspicuous absence along the stretch of the iconic baywalk.

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The statue of a blindfolded, mourning woman in traditional Filipiniana gown erected there less than five months ago had been replaced by a backhoe next to a gaping hole.

Four months after the Japanese foreign ministry had objected to it, the bronze figure of a “comfort woman” was taken down by the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH).

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City administrator Jojo Alcovendaz had earlier said that the statue, built next to the Manila Yacht Club’s typhoon shelter, would be uprooted to pave the way for a flood control project of the DPWH.

But Chinese-Filipino social activists and the group that commissioned the statue expressed anger over the statue’s removal.

“It’s kneeling down to Japan,” Teresita Ang See, academician, social activist and the founding president of Kaisa Para Sa Kaunlaran, said in a phone interview.

“They removed it late Friday night … just like criminals who were afraid of daylight,” she added.

Commissioned by Tulay Foundation, a Chinese-Filipino group led by Manuel Chua, the bronze statue supposedly symbolizes the sexual abuse suffered by hundreds of captive Filipino women at the hands of Japanese Imperial Army soldiers in World War II.

Anna Mae Lamentillo, spokesperson for the DWPH, said the comfort woman and two other statues, were removed on Friday night “to give way for the improvement of Roxas Boulevard Baywalk Area.”

Finger-pointing

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“Likewise, the DPWH would be constructing a lateral drainage (on) Roxas Boulevard southbound near President Quirino Avenue. Reinforced concrete pipes will be installed at that area considered as the lowest elevation in Roxas Boulevard,” Lamentillo said in a text message.

“Such pipes will be directed for an outfall to Manila Bay,” she added.

Lamentillo told the Inquirer to direct further questions to Manila’s city engineering office since “they were the ones who removed it.”

Asked about the statue, a surprised Alcovendaz clarified that the DPWH had only asked Manila to “assist” them.

“They put one over us. They were the ones who ordered us (to remove the statue),” he said.

Alcovendaz said the city government of Manila had no role in the project apart from providing traffic assistance.

Stealing history

The national government, he said, informed the city about its plan for the statues only “two weeks ago.”

“We only watched them remove the statue,” Alcovendaz said.

See said the statue was removed to deflect protests from the Japanese government and its embassy in Manila.

“They don’t have to remove the statue because it’s on the sidewalk. It’s the streets that get flooded, not the sidewalks,” she said, adding that her group would file a criminal complaint against those who removed the statue.

She said such statues were protected under the National Cultural Heritage Act of 2009 and “no one can just remove them.”

Nilo, a fisherman who calls the baywalk home, said he did not see how the statue was removed, although the noise of drilling in the area persisted in the wee hours of Saturday.

“Around 11 p.m. to 12 midnight, we heard continuous drilling from where the statue used to stand,” he said. “Three trucks were parked near the area along with a small van marked with the ‘City of Manila’ logo.”

The well-publicized unveiling of the bronze statue near the intersection of Roxas Boulevard and Quirino Avenue on Dec. 8 last year created tension between the government and the groups that supported its installation.

As early as last week, See already questioned the parking of a government backhoe next to the statue.

“I checked with the office of the Manila City Mayor and the National Historical Commission of the Philippines (NHCP). Both denied that they have ordered (the statue’s) removal,” she said.

In a strongly worded statement, See reminded the Duterte administration that while the Philippines needed to deal cordially with its neighbors and trade partners, it had a responsibility to “uphold the dignity of the Filipino people.”

“We have to deal with our friends and neighbors cordially and diplomatically, Japan among them. But this does not mean we have to be subservient to unreasonable demands,” she said.

“Good relations with Japan should not come at the expense of forgetting history and disregarding those who have suffered under the Japanese occupation,” she added.

The statue of the comfort woman, she said, is not intended to insult the Japanese people but to serve as a reminder that violence against women is unacceptable under any circumstances.

Fight revisionism

See said the “most prudent thing” for the government to do was to leave the statue alone. China and Korea, she said, also had statues of comfort women but remained trading partners with Japan.

“We have long forgiven Japan for the tragedy it caused us—our country and our people —during WWII. But it does not mean we should just forget the atrocities and war crimes, including the rape of our women, visited upon us during the Japanese occupation,” she said.

See stressed the importance of fighting revisionism and upholding history.

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TAGS: comfort woman statue, dpwh, Japanese foreign ministry, Jojo Alcovendaz, Kaisa Para Sa Kaunlaran, revisionism, Teresita Ang-See
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