It was thirty years ago, on August 14, 1991, when South Korean Kim Hak-sun became the first to give public testimony about her experience as a comfort woman victim.
August 14 was later declared by the South Korean government in 2012 as the International Memorial Day for Comfort Women.
South Korean President Moon Jae-in described Japan’s wartime use of comfort women as “crimes against humanity.”
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.
The girls who were abducted, trafficked, or brought to the Japanese soldiers’ camps had their dreams and visions for the future that were shattered a damaged in utter injustice.
Due to their tender age then, it was a painful experience for them to be subjected to sexual slavery, rape, and other forms of sexual violence during World War 2.
The victims have spent their lives in misery, having endured physical injuries, pain and disability, and mental and emotional suffering.
A year after Hak-sun’s revelation, Lola Rosa Henson decided to come out on September 18, 1992, with her story, and to tell everyone what happened to her, with the hope that such an ordeal will never happen again to any woman.
She was the first such Filipina to tell the world about this inhuman practice of the Japanese during the war.
In the book entitled Maria Rosa Henson: Comfort Woman by Yuki Tanaka, Nana Rosa narrated her ordeal at the hands of the Japanese soldiers.
“The soldiers came. My work began, and I lay down as one by one the soldiers raped me. Every day, anywhere from twelve to over twenty soldiers assaulted me. There were times when there were as many as thirty; they came to the garrison in truckloads.”
“I lay on the bed with my knees up and my feet on the mat as if I were giving birth. Whenever the soldiers did not feel satisfied, they vented their anger on me. Every day, there were incidents of violence and humiliation. When the soldiers raped me, I felt like a pig. Sometimes they tied up my right leg with a waistband or a belt and hung it on a nail in the wall as they violated me.”
“There was no rest, they have sex with me every minute. That’s why we’re very tired. They would allow you to rest only when all of them had already finished. Due to my tender age, it was a painful experience for me. Sometimes in the morning and sometimes in the evening – not only 20 times. ”
I had the privilege to see and talk to Nana Rosa in person when I was a reporter while finishing my UP Law studies then assigned to cover the Lila Filipina, the organization of former Filipina comfort women.
Hak-sun died in December 1997 at age 74.
Lola Rosa Henson died on August 18, 1997, of a heart attack at the age of 69. Her death came three days after the 52nd anniversary of the end of World War II.
Eight decades since the war ended on August 15, 1945, and thirty years after Hak-sun’s first appearance in 1991, the Japanese government still refuses to recognize its official accountability to the victims of sex slavery.
Many victims have died without seeing justice, with the Philippine government continuing to ignore the plight of “comfort” women. They remain unsupported and unrecognized by both the Japanese and Philippine governments.
Lila Filipina said in a statement that Japanese Official Development Assistance to flagship projects of the Duterte administration has made the Philippine government subservient to Japanese government dictates.
The group lamented the shameless kowtowing to the demands of the Japanese government to remove all memorials pertaining to Japanese wartime atrocities, particularly the “Lola” statue removed from Roxas Boulevard in 2018 and the replica of the “Girl of Peace” statue in a private facility in San Pedro, Laguna.
From their original number of more than 200 in the late 1990s, less than 50 Filipina survivors 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.
Justice has not yet been given to these women such as Rosa Henson. Their fight continues up to this day.
Peyups is the moniker of the University of the Philippines or UP Atty. Dennis R. Gorecho heads the seafarers’ division of the Sapalo Velez Bundang Bulilan law offices. For comments, email firstname.lastname@example.org, or call 09175025808 or 09088665786.