|MANILA, Jan. 18, 2018 -- Philippine women's group on Wednesday urged President Rodrigo Duterte to make "a concrete and clear position" on the issue of "comfort women" who were forced to work as sex slaves by the Japanese imperial army during World War II.
Joms Salvador, the secretary general of GABRIELA Alliance of Women, stressed the need to have a "concrete and clear national policy on the issue of comfort women."
"The Philippines needs to have a national policy on these women's quest for justice. We lack a concrete and clear policy on this," Salvador told Xinhua via telephone.
She said that Duterte also needs to have a "black and white stand" on the "comfort woman" statue that now stands along a scenic bayside boulevard in Manila City.
The Philippines erected a seven-feet bronze "comfort women" sculpture in December along a public promenade in Manila's busy Roxas Boulevard. Japan has asked the Philippine government to remove the sculpture.
GABRIELA asked Duterte anew to reject Japan's demand to remove the statue. GABRIELA and Lila Pilipina (League of Filipino Women) have earlier urged the Philippine government to ignore Japan's request.
GABRIELA is at the forefront of the Filipino women's struggle for freedom and democracy while Lila Pilipina is an organization of wartime sex slaves.
Both groups have been demanding justice on behalf of the aging comfort women in the Philippines, demanding an official apology from the Japanese government, just compensation, and inclusion of the comfort women issue in Japan's historical accounts and textbooks.
If Japan really wants to settle the "comfort women" issue, it should "officially recognize the horrors of state-sponsored sexual slavery" and apologize to the victims. "Raising petty issues about statues won't make the issue go away," she said.
It should be made clear to Japan that Filipino 'comfort women' are a national issue subject to official negotiations in a victim-centered process that will restore much of their dignity, she said.
In a recent interview with local media MindaNews, Duterte commented on the newly erected monument honoring the "comfort women." The interview, which took place last Friday night in Davao City, was made after Duterte met with Japanese Minister of Internal Affairs and Communication Seiko Noda.
Duterte told MindaNews that the Japanese government did not demand the removal of the statue but expressed regret.
Duterte said he informed Noda that he "cannot stop the relatives or even the comfort women still living from their freedom to express what they are expressing through the statue."
"That is a constitutional right which I cannot stop. It's prohibitive for me to do that," MindaNews quoted Duterte as saying.
Moreover, Duterte told MindaNews that removing the statue is up to Manila Mayor Joseph Estrada, adding that the issue "has not been raised to national policy" and that the government was (blind and deaf) about its installation."
Philippine Foreign Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano said last week that the Philippine government has created an inter-agency fact-finding group that will look into the controversial monument.