Thursday, June 16, 2016

The tragic story of the comfort women of the Philippines

(This article contains graphic details which some readers may find disturbing.)
 Sisters Lita (right) and Mileng were 13 and 15 years old when Japanese soldiers came to Mapanique "It was so painful," says Mileng of  her repeated rape by soldiers at the innocent age of thirteen.

Hundreds of thousands of women and girls across Asia were raped and forced into sexual slavery by Japanese soldiers during World War Two. Some have been offered a direct apology and compensation from the Japanese government - but not in the Philippines. The last survivors there want their suffering to finally be acknowledged.
"At night there are evil spirits - my mother and brother used to see the ghost of an old woman." With this warning the caretaker unlocks the gates to the Red House.
"After the war, no one wanted to live here," he says. "They were too scared."

Today the majestic blood-red villa is crumbling, but memories of the atrocities committed inside it haven't faded.

 Many women and girls were assaulted by Japanese soldiers in the Red House Lita and her sister Mileng live in the nearby village of Mapanique, about 50 miles north of the capital Manila. Now in their mid-80s, they recall a simple but happy childhood.
"We used to play hopscotch and tag. We'd climb trees and pick fruit," says Lita.
They were 13 and 15 years old when Japanese soldiers attacked their village in 1944.
Everyone was forced to watch as the men were executed, suspected of being resistance fighters, the sisters recall. One old man was castrated and forced to eat his own penis.

Mapanique was looted and razed. Then the girls and women, more than 100 in all, were forced to carry the looted goods to the Red House, which Japanese troops were using as a garrison.
"We thought it was the end of our world," says Mileng. "We thought they were going to kill us," adds Lita.
But the soldiers were in high spirits. They took off their uniforms, ate and had a smoke. Then, as the light faded, they began to rape the women and girls.

Inside the skeleton of the house, Lita points out where the stairway used to be. That's where they raped her.
"I was really struggling because I didn't want my clothes to be stripped off. I kept my legs together, tightly crossed. After I did that, they punched my thighs so that they could do what they wanted."
The following morning they were allowed to leave. Their village - including Lita and Mileng's home - had been burned down and survivors were taken along the river to a nearby town.  In the chaos and confusion, it took the sisters nearly three days to find each other.

They had become part of one of the largest operations of sexual violence in modern history. It's widely thought that about 200,000 women were held in captivity and many thousands more were raped.  Most were in Korea and China, but what's less well known is that the operation extended across the Japanese empire, as far afield as Burma, New Guinea, and the Philippines.
"This was not something done on the spur of the moment - this was planned," says historian Ricardo Jose of the University of the Philippines.

In the 1930s, it was discovered that Japanese troops in China would go "raping sprees". Recognizing the threat of the spread of sexually transmitted diseases, the Japanese Imperial Army devised a system to regulate sexual activity through the use of full-time slaves, who they called "comfort women".

Estellita - a frail and softly spoken 86-year-old great-grandmother - grew up on a prosperous sugar plantation in the central Philippines. She wanted to be a teacher.
One day, while selling food in the market, she was captured by a Japanese soldier and bundled into a truck. She was taken to a garrison where she was repeatedly raped by dozens of soldiers.


 Estellita kept silent about what she endured for more than 50 years.
 "I don't remember how many men came in. At one point I felt a sudden pain so I fought back. The soldier got angry. He held my head and banged it really hard into the table and I lost consciousness."
Estellita was only 14. She spent almost three weeks in Japanese captivity.  Her account is factual rather than expressive. Seven decades on, she still doesn't want to show her pain. She has tried to forget the screams, the crying, the face of the armed guard who stood outside her door.

"It was living hell for the 'comfort women'," says Ricardo Jose. "They simply had to stay in bed. They had to wait for the next customer, they had to submit. And this went on for hours, this went on for days, this went on for months. And they could not do anything."

The fragments of historical records that survived the war offer a chilling glimpse of the women's lives. On fortnightly visits to one garrison in the Philippines' third biggest city, Iloilo, Imperial Army doctors meticulously recorded the names, ages and sexual health of their captives: "21…16… 17… vaginal tearing… vaginal erosion."
"At their most extreme, the acts of violence would involve not just rape, but using almost anything to penetrate the woman - bottles, sticks, blunt objects," says Jose.
"And of course it created scars for life. Sometimes the women were left for dead."

Estellita's captivity ended as suddenly as it began. She was awoken one morning by American soldiers. The Japanese had fled. She walked out of the garrison and home to her parents.  She briefly went back to school, trying to keep busy. But ultimately the burden of shame and the fear of friends and neighbours discovering what she had been through became too much. She left school, giving up her ambitions of becoming a teacher, for a new life in poverty and anonymity in Manila. Estellita began a half a century of silence - she didn't even share her story with her husband or children. But when she started meeting up with other survivors and campaigning on behalf of the "comfort women", her daughter Lisa began to ask questions.
"I kept wondering why she wasn't around," says Lisa. "So I asked her."
Estellita was terrified of how her daughter would react.
"I had to explain that I didn't want it to happen to me," she says, conscious that other women in her position had been abandoned by their families when they found out.
Lisa was deeply moved by her mother's story. Now, she's joined her in the campaign for justice.

In 1993, after women in South Korea, the Philippines and other places started speaking out, the Japanese government offered "sincere apologies and remorse to all those, irrespective of place of origin, who suffered immeasurable pain and incurable physical and psychological wounds as comfort women".
At the time, it helped set up a fund to provide aid and support to victims but didn't offer full state-funded compensation. Japan has subsequently reiterated its sincere remorse and apologies towards the women.  But for many of the women these apologies were too vague and the financial offer far too inadequate. Would anything be adequate compensation for these women? I truly doubt it.


  1. I heard about the 'Comfort Women' they was very brave ladies to suffer in silence , scared to tell their families , afraid they would be rejected .
    I haven't looked at the news today , so much sadness ... trying to keep a happy face for my family , Gil don't need to see a swollen red eye baby .
    A very good post ... so sad
    Love PIC

  2. It is sad that they kept silent for 70 years. How shamed they must have felt. The point I wanted to make is that the Japanese government has not compensated these women yet in spite of promises. In my view there isn't enough gold in Japan to compensate.
    Have a great weekend
    Lotsa Love


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