MANILA, Philippines – Armed with flowers and placards, women from all walks of life on Tuesday, June 12, gathered along Roxas Boulevard for a different Independence Day celebration.
Womens’ groups Gabriela and Lila Filipina led a group of mostly women in a small flower offering ceremony at the former site of the comfort woman statue as they demanded the reinstallation of the symbol of Japanese atrocities during World War II.
The march was part of the #Flowers4Lola campaign, a coalition of cause-oriented non-governmental organizations, individuals, and schools that got together when the statue was removed.
#Flowers4Lolas said in a statement that the flower-offering ceremony is meant “to remember our comfort women and raise our consciousness about the deep and idelible wounds from brutalities committed against our people during the Japanese occupation.”
“We gathered at the site where the ‘Comfort Woman” statue once stood. We reiterated our calls for the re-installation of the statue and for the Philippine government to uphold the truth in our history, and stand up for the nation’s dignity amidst pressures from the Japanese government to dictate how we should remember and teach our history to our young,” it said.
In April, the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) explained that the comfort women statue and two other monuments were removed to give way for the improvement of the Roxas Boulevard Baywalk Area. Months earlier, in January, Foreign Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano had said that Philippine ties with Japan were at stake with the continued presence of the statue along Manila Bay.
Following the removal of the statue, President Rodrigo Duterte said “it is not the policy of government to antagonize other nations.”
The statue was a memorial for Filipino comfort women who were forced into sex slavery by the Japanese imperial army during World War II. Hundreds of thousands of women in Asia were turned into “comfort women” (READ: What’s wrong with this statue of a comfort woman in Manila? )
The statue, said #Flowers4Lolas, “gives a face to victims of war and militarization.”
The statue’s removal triggered outrage from several women’s groups who demended its reinstallation.
Speakers at the June 12 ceremony included anti-crime crusader Teresita Ang See, Lola Estellita Dy of Lila Filipina, Sister Mary John Mananzan, and Gabriela Representative Arlene Brosas. (READ: Duterte says comfort woman statue part of free expression)
In her speech, Mananzan lauded the strength of the surviving comfort women. “Kaya po ang mga lola na ito, kahit na matatanda na sila, napakamatatag sila [sa] pakikipaglaban, na dapat magkaroon ng apology at ilagay dapat sa kasaysayan yung nangyari sa kanila,” she said.
(That’s why these women, even if they’re old, they remain steadfast in demanding for an apology, and that [what happened to them] should form part of history.)
Mananzan also paid tribute to the “first” comfort woman who came forward, Rosa Henson. – with reports from Luisa Jocson/Rappler.com
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