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Duterte willing to raise plight of comfort women with Japan

MANILA, Philippines – Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte said he is willing to raise the plight of wartime Filipino comfort women with Japan, but said he has to temper his language when this opportunity comes.

Asked if he is open to conveying the comfort women's concerns to the Japanese government, Duterte told reporters, "In a way, yes."

"If I can go there, if I can get to talk to them again, I would just talk about comfort women and what we intend to do," the President said in a news conference Thursday evening, July 11.

"But I cannot go there with a mindset, because if I do that, my language would be different," he added, suggesting that he does not want to sound demanding toward the Japanese. 

"Comfort women" refer to those turned by the Japanese military into sex slaves during World War II. 

With few official records available, many researchers have estimated around 200,000 women – mostly from Korea but also from China, Indonesia, the Philippines, and Taiwan – served Japanese soldiers in "comfort stations."

Tokyo issued a landmark apology in 1993, which acknowledged the military's involvement in the coercive brothel system. But it did not admit the government's complicity in it.

A United Nations watchdog urged Japan to accept full blame for the comfort women's plight, but Japan rejected this call in 2014.

Comfort women in the Philippines have also demanded a formal apology from Japan. (READ: Comfort women: 'Hustisya para sa mga lola')

Duterte invited to Japan

When he brings up the comfort women's concerns, Duterte said: "I have to present the problem, point out the victims, and we start to talk. The most important thing there, in any language, is your mindset. What are you? Because if you go in raging mad, it's over, it's gone."

Duterte made these comments after a meeting with Japanese Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida on Thursday. 

Duterte and Kishida discussed a broad range of issues during their meeting. 

One of these is their common position that they "just want dialogue" with China and "don’t want further incursions" into disputed waters, Duterte said.

Another is Japan's ¥241,991 million* (P110.76 billion or $2.37 billion) loan for the Philippines to build a 38-kilometer railway.

During this meeting, Kishida also extended the invitation of Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe for Duterte to visit Japan.

Duterte said Japanese officials already invited him to Japan right at the start of his administration when they visited him. 

"I said, well, I may go there. It has to be in summer time," Duterte said, citing his fear of contracting pneumonia if the weather is cold.

"The coldness actually does not fit us," the 71-year-old President said. – with reports from Agence France-Presse/Rappler.com

*¥1 = P0.46

Paterno R. Esmaquel II

Paterno R. Esmaquel II, news editor of Rappler, specializes in covering religion and foreign affairs. He obtained his MA Journalism degree from Ateneo and later finished MSc Asian Studies (Religions in Plural Societies) at RSIS, Singapore. For story ideas or feedback, email him at pat.esmaquel@rappler.com.

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