Saturday, March 3, passed quietly without fanfare. But it is an important day in history. March 3, 1945 marked the end of the Battle of Manila to liberate the Philippines after three years of Japanese aggression.
It is widely considered as one of the greatest tragedies of the Second World War where 100,000 men, women, and children perished, according to the Official Gazette.
One person who has a lot to say about the Japanese war atrocities is Estelita Dy, who, on Saturday, talked to only a small audience at a trendy hub in Escolta, Manila.
She was wearing a purple terno to represent Lila Pilipina (League of Filipino Women), ” a support group for Filipina “comfort women” who are victims of sexual slavery by Japanese soldiers, for the photo installation of photographer Richard Dy aptly entitled “Huling Habilin ni Lola” (Grandma’s Last Request).
Now in her twilight years, Lola Estelita, as she is fondly called, hopes Rodrigo Duterte would be the one. She asks the President himself to intervene and not to distance the government from the case.
“Kung pwede makipag-usap siya sa gobyernong Hapon, at wala naman ibang makipag-ano (usap) kung hindi siya lang. Wala nang iba pang mataas na pinuno kung hindi siya lang,” Dy said.
Lola Estelita has been fighting with Lila Pilipina for three decades for proper apologies, just compensation and historical recognition from the Japanese government.
She is among the reportedly 1,000 Filipinas forceibly seized during the Japanese occupation to serve as “comfort women” or those used for sex by Japanese soldiers in comfort stations during the war. There were estimated 200,000 victims from China, Indonesia, Korea and Taiwan.
In South Korea, President Moon Jae In wants to revisit his predecessor’s deal with the Japanese to issue an apology and pay $8.8 million compensation fee. Moon calls it a wrong deal that falls short in giving justice to his people, especially that Japan has not explicitly apologized for wartime crimes.
Dy would like the same from Duterte. But the last actions from his government are discouraging.
Foreign Affairs Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano wants to investigate why a statue of a comfort woman was erected on Baywalk beside the iconic Manila Bay. Cayetano fears it would strain ties with Japan, one of Philippines’ top sources of aid.
Cayetano would rather move on.
“The official stand not of the DFA but of the Philippines for several years is that it has been officially part of the reparations and it has been officially settled,” Cayetano said, referring to the 1956 reparations agreement where Japan committed to pay $550 million in reparations.
The Battle Continues
Dy speaks as if this is still March 3,1945, and the fight has just started.
She will soon turn 88 in a few months, but she is a strong woman despite age. Strong emotionally, and physically – she has hauled herself to rallies for three decades calling for justice for comfort women. That’s why even though she has a slight difficulty hearing, she would still take every opportunity to tell her story.
Dy is among the few remaining active members of Lila Pilipina. Others are not strong enough, or lucid enough, most had simply passed. Despite her age and seeming endless battles administration after administration, there is not a single trace of despair in her.
“Hangga’t malakas kami, sige pa rin. Kasi suportado kami ng mga anak namin, ng mga apo namin,” Dy said.
Turnover to Millennials
Dy and other comfort women were photographed through years by development worker Richard Dy, who took his photos to an exhibit mounted by 98B in Escolta on Saturday.
“It started as a photo story for a university paper, but after a while of being involved in the struggle, it became my personal struggle too. I wanted to contribute something for the lolas before they pass away.” the photographer Dy said in interview. (They are not related)
The main photo of the exhibit was that of Paula Atillo, arms streched out wide in the middle of her living room. At the time the photo was taken, Atillo was suffering from Alzheimer’s disease. Another photo shows Atillo on her deathbed in July 2013, passing without attaining justice.
“I think anyone who would get to meet the lolas will be inspired by their courage to come out, do something worthwhile, and not just let go. When people see them in the streets demanding justice, they must be saying, oh, they’re already old. They should just be resting. But they didn’t. They chose to spend the remaining years of their lives fighting for justice and fighting for other women and victims of violence,” Dy added.
“Huling Habilin” depicted the women’s “pains and dignity” through the photos taken from 2010 to 2014. That time, Lila Pilipina’s membership was down to around 60 from around 200 in the early 1990’s.
The sad truth is the lolas are dying. That’s why the young generation has a role to play in the fight for justice, according to the younger Dy.
“The survival of the comfort women issue is up to us, the younger generation. If we do not shake things up, then the struggle of the lolas will be forgotten, and we may not be able to prevent another generation of victims of violence,” he said.
Right behind the Manila Cathedral in Intramuros, there is a monument by Peter De Guzman depicting the men, women and children victimized by the second world war.
Called “Memorare,” the central figure is the Motherland weeping as she holds a dead infant. The Nick Joaquin-written inscription reads: “Let this monument be a gravestone for each and every one of the over 100,000 men, women, children and infants killed in Manila during its battle of liberation.”
A separate marker stands beside the monument today: “The female figure on the right side is a victim of rape…”
It is unclear whether this additional marker alluding to the war crime of rape has escaped the scrutiny of our government so careful not to offend its generous ally Japan.
The additional marker, and the statue on Baywalk, are symbols.
Is Dy not entitled to that symbol? And is that all that we can give her?
Editor’s Note: The photo on the featured image was taken by Richard Dy. The rest of his photos for “Huling Habilin ni Lola” are on exhibition until the end of March at The Hub in First United Building, Escolta, Manila.
[Entry 252, The SubSelfie Blog]
About the Author:
Toni Tiemsin is SubSelfie.com‘s EIC. After his five-year stint in GMA News producing and writing investigative reports, feature segments, scripts for various newscasts, and hourly and breaking-news programs, he is now with Ogilvy & Mather as Media Relations Manager. Previously, he was Media and Communications Officer for children’s rights group Save the Children. Journalism 2009, UP Diliman. Read more of his articles here. For his photos, check out his Instagram.