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Justice Eludes Filipino 'Comfort Women' 60 Years On

Priscilla Bartonico shivered as tears welled up in her eyes while she recalled that afternoon in 1943 when two Japanese soldiers barged into the family's thatched house in the eastern province of Leyte and abducted her.


The Japanese soldiers took the then 16-year-old Priscilla to their garrison, and for the next six months she and dozens of other local women were brutally and systematically raped.


"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 sex slaves to the Japanese, who continue to seek justice for their ordeal 60 years after the end of World War II.


Bartonico said that long after the war's end, the agony and misery still suffered by her and thousands of other sex slaves has yet to be eased by justice.


"The Japanese government tries to sweep us under the rug and pretend that we didn't happen," Bartonico said, as she stood in the rain during a protest in front of the Japanese Embassy in Manila. "But we are real. We want a public apology and we want compensation."


According to historians, the sex slaves or "comfort women" of the Japanese Imperial Army during WWII were taken as part of 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 the Chinese mainland, Korea, the Philippines, Malaysia, the Dutch East Indies (Indonesia) and the South China Sea islands.


Historians estimate that fewer than 30 percent of the "comfort women" survived their ordeal. Rechilda Extremadura, executive director of a non-government organization that supports Filipino "comfort women," said the first Filipino WWII sex slave that came out into the open was the late Rosa Henson in 1991.


Henson, who died of a heart attack in 1997, shocked the country when she went public about her dehumanizing and brutal experience as a "comfort woman" for Japanese soldiers in the northern province of Pampanga in April 1943.


"To date, we have documented the cases of 173 'comfort women' in the Philippines, but 45 of them have died without seeing justice," Extremadura said.


Extremadura said the "comfort women" wanted the Japanese government to come clean and make a full disclosure of its sex-slavery operations in the war. They are also demanding an official public apology as well as compensation for the victims and their families.


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 29, 2005)

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