Memorials to human suffering | Inquirer Opinion
Human Face

Memorials to human suffering

/ 05:22 AM November 30, 2017

In the news is the souring of the sister-city ties between Osaka and San Francisco because of the latter’s newly erected statue in memory of thousands of Asian “comfort women” or sex slaves during the Japanese occupation in World War II. The three figures in the statue seemed to represent a Filipino, a Chinese and a Korean. The Japanese Imperial Army also had sex slaves in Taiwan, Indonesia, Malaysia and East Timor.

The curious thing about this is why San Francisco would have such a memorial when there were no records of American women in Asia forced into sexual slavery by Japanese invaders.


Japan’s Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said at a news conference that “erecting comfort women statues in the United States and other countries is in conflict with our country’s stance and extremely regrettable.” Meaning that such memorials or reminders, if erected even in countries where Japanese soldiers kept sex slaves, such as the Philippines, would be offensive? Because shameful? But aren’t memorials to human suffering, especially if war-related, erected in places where these were inflicted?

When I was in the Jefferson Journalism Fellowship Program at the East-West Center in Honolulu, one of the places we went to see (we were on board a huge US aircraft carrier) was the USS Arizona War Memorial off Pearl Harbor. Here Japanese war planes did a surprise air strike that sank the USS Arizona and killed more than a thousand US troops in 1941.  That signaled the beginning of World War II in the Pacific.


The issue of comfort women in the Philippines was laid bare in the 1990s. Rosa Henson was among the first to come forward with her story. Many followed suit. I have been to the old “Bahay na Pula” (so called because of the reddish paint of the house owned by the Ilusorio clan) in San Ildefonso, Bulacan. In this house countless sexual abuses were committed in World War II.

More than 50 years later, former comfort women gathered at the Bahay na Pula for documentation by artists and photographers. I interviewed several and listened to their heartrending recollections.  I wrote an article on it (“Bahay na Pula,” 6/1/2000.)

Why not a memorial for our own “comfort women”?

I was at the Women’s International War Crimes Tribunal held in 2000 in Tokyo where scores of women from Asia, mostly in their waning years, came to tell their stories and demand recognition and reparation from the government of Japan. Present, too, was a Dutch woman who suffered sexual abuse in Indonesia. Some 20 former comfort women from the Philippines were present. Several survivors of the 1937 “Rape of Nanking” were able to attend; one fainted while recalling her ordeal.

A memorable thing about the gathering was the warm welcome provided by women’s and church groups in Japan.

All over the world are memorials to remind people of human suffering, especially of innocents and noncombatants. There are Holocaust Museums in Jerusalem and Washington, DC that are reminders of the extermination of millions of Jews under Hitler.

The German Nazis’ Auschwitz concentration camp in Poland has been preserved as a reminder. In Germany, preserved for tours are sites (e.g., Dachau) where unspeakable cruelties against human beings were committed.


The Nanjing Massacre Memorial Hall was built in 1985 in memory of the 300,000 victims who lost their lives in 1937-1938. When I was there in 2007 the place was under renovation. I have a copy of Chinese-American journalist Iris Chang’s bestselling book “The Rape of Nanking.”

In the Philippines there are memorials to remind us of human suffering. In Malate Church there is one for the priests killed by the Japanese, and in Intramuros a “Memorare” for the 100,000 plus innocents killed during the Battle of Manila in 1945. Bataan has a memorial for those who suffered and died in the Death March.

The Japanese have memorials in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Why, they even have memorials for their own war dead on Philippine soil.

There is the Bantayog ng mga Bayani erected in 1986 in Quezon City where today, Nov. 30, 11 names of heroes and martyrs will be added to the 287 who fought and offered their lives to end Marcos’ tyrannical rule.

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TAGS: comfort women, Human Face, Ma. Ceres P. Doyo, memorials to suffering, Rosa Henson, Yoshihide Suga
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