Aklan’s comfort woman statue has a new home

The remaining comfort woman “Lola” statue previously erected in Caticlan, Aklan has found a new home in Pandan, Antique.   

It was on January 2020 when I last saw the lifesize statue of two women standing on the property owned by the family of women’s rights activist Nelia Sancho located along Caticlan Jetty Port Road near where Boracay-bound tourists board passenger boats.

It was Sancho who enlisted a radio station to encourage Philippine women who had been abused by wartime Japanese troops to come forward—the catalyst for the comfort women movement.

Sancho played an active part in an international solidarity conference that called for the resolution of Japan’s wartime past.

The bronze statue was completed by artist Carlos Anorico of Angono, Rizal in July 2018, after almost two months’ work, with about P700,000 ($13,381) of personal and donated funds spent.

It is engraved with words that salute the “Filipino comfort women who were victims of sex slavery by the Japanese military during the Second World War.”

Sancho also organized the Lola Kampaneras, which is a local support group composed of comfort women based in the Panay Island (Capiz, Aklan, Antique, Iloilo) and advocates.

Kampaneras’ Lola Adela Barroquillo was only 14 years old in 1942 when she was abducted, kept and raped in a room that was small and dingy.

She used to mark the days on the wall with charcoal before she regained freedom three months later when the garrison was raided.  

“It was very shameful as a woman to be raped.” Lola Adela kept silent for years until she heard Lola Rosa Henson’s story in September 1992, how she was a victim, and they asked other victims to come forward.

Lola Adela was later interviewed in “The Apology,” a 2018 documentary film about three former “comfort women” that survived the atrocity with the hopes that this horrific chapter of history will not be forgotten.

They gave first-hand accounts of their experiences as young girls during the war, with the scars of violence they carry in their entire lives.

Lola Kampanera members helped in putting up a memorabilia center near the statue to help visitors learn more about the plight of comfort women and the inhuman practice of the Japanese during the war.

Sancho said that the statue was erected on their private property so that it would not be removed regardless of pressure from the Japanese government, just like what happened to two other statues.

Since their Caticlan property has a new owner now, Sancho said that the Lola statue was relocated in Pandan, Antique owned by a relative. Another comfort woman, Pacita Santillan, was a native of Pandan who died a few years ago.

A two-meter high “Lola” statue commissioned by Tulay Foundation was installed in December 2017 along Baywalk, Roxas Boulevard in Manila.

It was an unnamed woman wearing a traditional Filipino dress, blindfolded, with hands clutched to her chest.

Four months after its installation, the statue was dismantled by the DPWH under cover of darkness on April 27, 2018, allegedly for a drainage improvement project, but seen as submission to protests from Japan.

It was later declared missing in August 2019 when the artist, Jonas Roces, failed to deliver the statue for its reinstallation at the Baclaran Church.

He said that unidentified men took the Lola statue from his art studio in Cainta, Rizal.

Another comfort woman statue —of a young woman with fists resting on her lap—has been removed from the Catholic-run Mary Mother of Mercy shelter for the elderly and the homeless in San Pedro, Laguna, only two days after its unveiling in January 2019.

Even if these are reminders of a painful past, the “Lola” statues honor the memory, courage and resilience of these Filipino women.

The Lola statues represent Filipino women’s dignity and stand as “a reminder that wars of aggression must always be opposed, and that sexual slavery and violence should never happen again to any woman, anywhere, at any time.”

About 200,000 women from Korea, China, Burma, New Guinea, and the Philippines were held in captivity and many thousands more were raped as part of one of the largest operations of sexual violence in modern history.

 Sancho lamented that the Lolas are dying and “we didn’t want the issue to die with them.

From the more than 200 survivors in the late 1990s, less than 50 Filipino comfort women are still alive.

This highlights a sense of urgency for them to receive a formal unequivocal public apology and just compensation from Japan as well as accurate historical inclusion while their voices can still be heard.

It has been almost eight decades since the war ended on August 15, 1945, and yet the Japanese government refuses to recognize its official accountability to the victims of sex slavery.  

Justice has not yet been given to these women. Their fight continues up to this day.

Atty. Dennis R. Gorecho heads the seafarers’ division of the Sapalo Velez Bundang Bulilan law offices. For comments, e-mail [email protected], or call 0917-5025808 or 0908-8665786.

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