Six days ago, I paid a visit to LILA Pilipina, an organization that houses comfort women lolas (lola means grandmother in Filipino) who were victims of sexual slavery during the Japanese occupation. For two decades, they have been fighting relentlessly for justice, but to no avail. I had the chance to meet two lolas, Lola Hilario and Lola Estelita. I was lucky enough to spend a few hours with them and talk about their experience.
As a 19 year old university student, journalist and youth activist, the plight of our grandmothers is something that I hold close to my heart. And I want to tell you their story because I want more people to know about their plight and fight for justice. As a youth, I believe that this is one of my ways to contribute with their fight for justice and to act as a preserver of a historical and national memory.
This is lola Hilario, she is 89 years old. She worked as a farmer in Hermosa, Bataan to support her parents and eight siblings. While on her way home, a truck of Japanese military men stopped her in her racks and grabbed her. She tried to fight them, but two soldiers yanked her and started slapping her. When she tried to free herself from them, one of the soldiers punched her hard in the stomach. She lost her conscious and woke up in the garrison house of the soldiers. They dragged her inside one of the rooms, shoved her on the floor and started raping her. All three of them.
While she was being raped by one, the other two soldiers held her down so she couldn’t fight back. When the first one was done, the other would take his place and another and another, until they were all finished. She was kept in the garrison for over a year. She was only sixteen.
This is lola Estelita. She is 85 years old and another victim of war crime by the Imperial Japanese Army. She, too, was abducted by the Japanese military in year 1944 when she was accused to be a guerrilla member. The guerrilla members during that time were being brought to the plaza and being beheaded by the soldiers.
Fearing for her life, she tried to escape and made a run for it, but one of the Japanese soldiers saw her and caught up with her. He seized her and dragged her to the truck. She was brought to the Central Talisay garrison in Negros Occidental. She was shoved to the wall by one of the soldiers and within minutes, a soldier came inside the room and started caressing her. He raped her. After he was done, another came, and another, and another.
Lola Estelita lost count of the men who raped her because she fainted. Whenever she would fight back, they would hit her on the face and head. Afraid to be killed, she decided to just do what the soldiers told her to do; she shut her eyes, cried, but didn’t fight back. She was kept in Central Talisay for three weeks. She was only 14.
Lola Hilario and Lola Estelita are just two of the 174 Filipino comfort women identified by LILA Pilipina. There are others who are still unidentified, and we fear that their names may not resurface anymore. Not all of the comfort women victims came out and told their story, most of them are probably dead or senile. In fact, they are diminishing every year. It has been 70+ years since WWII, and yet our grandmothers still do not have their justice.
They have been lobbying for Japan to give them an individual public apology, yet the Japanese government relentlessly denies their accusations for “lack of evidence.” I do not understand why they are being unreasonable, because these grandmothers are living evidence themselves! They have also been fighting for accurate historical inclusion. In history books, the comfort women were made out to be prostitutes, but they’re not. They are sisters,mothers, wives, daughters–either abducted from their homes or lured by the military with promises of money to pay off debts and food. This is an injustice, a war crime, and our grandmothers deserve so much more than this.
They are the mothers of this Philippine soil that I stand on. They deserve so much more than this. They deserve justice. When they die, who will fight for them? Who?
I believe that as a youth, it is my responsibility to fight for the justice of my lolas. I believe that as a journalist and a writer, it is also my responsibility to make use of the information that I know, because what is knowledge if there is no action? I will never get tired of fighting for their justice and spreading their story around because it would be a sin to continue living with blind eyes and deaf ears. I would never forgive myself to live a life of ignorance, nonchalance and indifference. Never.
Our lolas are not getting any younger and are, in fact, dying each year. There are only 10 of them left who are active in LILA Pilipina, and only 4 are still strong enough to go on protest rallies. They are getting too old to fight, yet they keep on. I admire them with all my heart, but at the same time, my heart aches for them. They have been fighting for so long; I cannot imagine the trauma that they faced, the decades they spent keeping their secret from their families, the victim blaming, the shame that comes with it. They are my heroes and as long as I am living, I will fight for them.
Their plight is not a plight they face alone. Filipinos today who have not been silenced like the comfort women lolas have a moral responsibility to their plight; to continue on fighting for justice, with or without the lolas. And we should never stop fighting. We owe them that. We owe their generation our democracy.