Duterte backs removal of comfort woman statue from gov't property

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Photo courtesy of Jose Antonio Custodio

Metro Manila (CNN Philippines) — President Rodrigo Duterte backed the removal of a statue of a comfort woman from Roxas Boulevard, Manila, adding it has no place on government property.

"You can place it somewhere else," Duterte told the press after returning to Davao City from the 32nd Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Summit in Singapore. "If you want to place it in a private property, fine. Because that issue for…insofar as I'm concerned, tapos na 'yan."

[Translation: As far as I'm concerned, it's over. ]

The term comfort women refers to the women who suffered sexual abuse during the Japanese occupation of several Asian countries including the Philippines during World War II, with some forced to work in military brothels.

The comfort woman statue was removed from Roxas Boulevard on the night of April 27 by the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH). The Manila government said the statue was removed to prepare for a drainage improvement project.

Manila City Administrator Jojo Alcovendaz said the statue was returned to the Tulay Foundation, a Filipino-Chinese organization who commissioned the statue.

For Duterte, the issue of comfort women is a done deal, similar to the case of South Korea. Japan has already started the reparations process to countries such as South Korea.

In the Philippines, however, such a process has yet to begin. Tokyo in 1993 issued an apology, which recognized the military's involvement in the brothel system but refused to admit the government's role in it.

"So huwag na natin insultuhin [let's not insult them]," he said. "But if there is what you would call a memorial for an injustice committed at one time, it's all right."

The President added it is not the policy of government to antagonize other nations. "But if is erected in a private property, fine. We will honor it."

Why should we adjust?

For womens' rights group Gabriela, the statue should be in a public place like Roxas Boulevard.

"Why should we be the one to adjust just so we don't piss off Japan," said Gabriela Party-list Rep. Arlene Brosas in a statement. "[The comfort woman statue] was built to remind us of a dark past which should not be repeated. It was not meant for private viewing."

Reparations, Brosas added, are not enough. "We need to address the historical injustice against them and counter Japan's revisionist take on WWII history."

For Filipino women, getting recognition from both the Japanese and Philippine government is an ongoing struggle.

In 2010, the Supreme Court ruled that while they "greatly sympathize" with the plight of the comfort women, the judiciary does not have the power to compel the executive department to file a claim for compensation from the Japanese government.

The former lead legal counsel for the Malaya Lolas (Free Grandmothers) organization, who were the petitioners for that 2010 case, is current Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque.