Priscilla Bartonico shivered and tears welled in her eyes as she recalled that afternoon in 1943 when two Japanese soldiers barged into the family's thatched house in the eastern Philippine province of Leyte and took her away.
The Japanese soldiers brought the then 16-year-old Priscilla to their garrison, and for the next six months she and dozens of other local women became sex slaves.
"For decades, I wanted to just forget that episode of my life but I could not," said the now 78-year-old grandmother, one of thousands of former Japanese sex slaves who continue to seek justice for their ordeal 60 years after the end of World War II.
According to historians, the sex slaves or "comfort women" of the Japanese Imperial Army during World War II were taken under a systematic operation that involved the forcible drafting of 100,000 to 250,000 Asian women.
The operation involved the establishment, control and management of army brothels in all Japanese garrisons in China, Korea, the Philippines, the South China Sea Islands and Dutch East Indies, Malaysia and Indonesia.
Historians estimate that fewer than 30 percent of the "comfort women" survived the ordeal by the end of the war.
Rechilda Extremadura, executive director of a non-government organization that supports Filipino "comfort women," said the first Filipino World War II sex slave that came out in the open was the late Rosa Henson in 1991.
Bartonico, who has four grown children and three grandchildren, said Henson inspired her to also come out in the open in 1992, even against the reservations expressed by her husband.
"My husband told me it was better to just forget the whole incident," she said. "But one of my sons argued that I should do what has to be done."
Japan still denies war crimes
The Japanese government, however, maintained that it was not involved in the scheme and individual businessmen were the ones maintaining the brothels.
In 1995, the Japanese legislature and cabinet established a US$4.79 million public fund called the Asian Development Fund as atonement of the Japanese people for the suffering of the "comfort women."
But Filipino "comfort women" as well as those from other Asian countries rejected the fund and continued to demand formal public apology and compensation from the Japanese government.
Unfortunately, the Japanese legal system was not on the side of the Filipino "comfort women." On December 25, 2003, the Japanese Supreme Court dismissed a class suit filed by the Filipino women 10 years earlier.
(China Daily August 12, 2005)