Justice delayed fuels Lila Pilipina’s fight for comfort women

Dedicated to providing a voice for Filipino comfort women, Lila Pilipina continues to call for justice and institutionalization.

EDITOR’S NOTE: The following article contains themes and mentions of sexual abuse and violence. Reader discretion is advised.

As Filipinos, we are not blind to the suffering our country went through during World War II—especially that of Filipino women. We learned about comfort women and the sexual abuse that they were forced to endure under the tyranny of the Japanese and how, to this day, the perpetrators still refuse to acknowledge the horrifying acts they inflicted upon our women.

But the fight does not end on the pages of a history book. The Lila Pilipina Center for Justice and Remembrance (Lila Pilipina), an organization created in 1994 dedicated to giving a voice to comfort women, is still devoted to championing the cause of these women. Sharon Cabusao-Silva, an executive director of Lila Pilipina, conveys that they are “still actively [pursuing] the issue of justice through protest actions and public awareness-raising, especially among the youth”.

The fight for justice for comfort women remains even decades after the Japanese have left.

Time is not enough

In a 2016 article written by The LaSallian, lolas Hilaria Bustamante and Estelita Dy, comfort women supported by Lila Pilipina, imparted their own harrowing experiences of sexual abuse and violence. While much has changed since then, including the unfortunate passing of Lola Hilaria, Lila Pilipina’s will and passion have never once wavered. Cabusao-Silva imparts eagerly that Lola Estelita is still able to attend organized events and rallies and has stayed active in telling her story to the people. 

“[It struck me] how courageous these lolas are…I cannot imagine how they felt, the horror [and terror] that they felt when it happened,” Cabusao-Silva furthers somberly. 

Lola Hilaria was 16 years old when she was forced into sexual slavery by the Japanese; Lola Estelita was only 14. They were abducted from their families and were at the mercy of the soldiers’ degrading behests. Lola Hilaria was held at the garrison for over a year, while Lola Estelita was held at another location for three weeks. “I’m quite familiar with the stories, pero it’s still so heavy—it’s still so painful when you read [their stories]… because I can only imagine myself in the situation that they were in,” Cabusao-Silva expresses. 

Despite the indisputable predicaments these women were forced to undergo, the organization notes that there is still yet to be an official apology and individual compensation from the Japanese government. Although the 1994 Asian Women’s Fund was set up by the Japanese government as a means of reparation for these women, its main criticism is that it is not state-funded but rather a private fund—therefore, the state itself has yet to issue its own acknowledgment of the gruesome World War II events. Cabusao-Silva takes this into account, saying, “Because…very few na lang nakakaalala, medyo distorted ‘yung understanding ng iba at tsaka ng recall nila; some would say, ‘‘‘Di ba [nabayaran] na kayo noong 1990s, ‘yung sa Asian Women’s Fund?’” 

(Because…very few remember, the understanding and recall of others have become distorted; some would say, “Haven’t you already received payment during the 1990s, from the Asian Women’s Fund?”)

The country’s diminishing memory of history is one of the many reasons why Lila Pilipina is a very active actor in the political scene. Cabusao-Silva reiterates that aside from an official statement from Japan, the organization also looks forward to when the Philippines will finally take a stand with its citizens, instead of adopting a “non-aligned” position—a future that may actually be farther than once thought.

The fight will never cease

Time and time again, the lolas and Lila Pilipina volunteers prove to be a force to be reckoned with. Cabusao-Silva fondly imparts how it was an inspiration to see the lolas fight for justice, undeterred—even with the heavy and painful stories of the past, these women remain courageous and headstrong. “[They are not] the kind of women that you can easily put in place, [they have] varying personalities and tempers…but [when] there’s a need to be in solidarity for the cause that they are fighting for, that is the time that they really fall into place,” she shares. 

While the organization is surrounded by dedicated volunteers, it’s difficult when they’re in a battle against time and the state itself. “‘Yun ‘yung problem: hindi institutionalized [‘yung] teachings in history tsakayung textbooks natin ng comfort women issue [kaya] sa turnover ng mga generations, ang daling makalimutan,” Cabusao-Silva stresses. She mentions how it became more difficult when some of the lolas who were once active and assertive had passed away. 

(That’s the problem: the teachings in history and our textbooks about the comfort women issue are not institutionalized, which is why in the turnover of generations, it’s easily forgotten.)

The Philippine government’s refusal to raise the issue with the Japanese government also does not help the case. Amid President Marcos’ Japan visit last February, Lila Pilipina released a statement reprimanding the government’s military relations with Japan and demanding justice for Filipino comfort women. They firmly stated, “We reiterate our calls for the Philippine government to stand up for justice for Filipino victims of Japanese wartime sex slavery and for Japan to owe up to its responsibility.” While Cabusao-Silva acknowledges Japan as a powerful nation and the Philippines’ number one creditor, this does not stop the executive director from calling for justice—the battle still continues.

A stand of solidarity

It is clear that the stories of Filipino comfort women have a long way to traverse before achieving rightful acknowledgments and apologies from the Japanese. “It’s important to tell the young people about what happened in the past, but it’s also important that they are able to link the lessons of history with the urgencies that we are now confronting,” Cabusao-Silva shares.

Additionally, Lila Pilipina hopes for the stories of Filipino comfort women to be recognized more. Much of the work put into volunteerism for the organization is a labor of love, and it would mean a lot for the organization to have more people be aware of their advocacy. This way, the lolas’ stories are protected, false historical accounts are warded off, and chronicles of the past are widely taught. For in a world mired in endless depths of false or unverified information, it is of utmost importance to defend the stories wrapped within truths—the stories of the comfort women being just one example of it all. 

Anyone who would like to help and volunteer for Lila Pilipina may contact the organization through the following channels:

[email protected]

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