Comfort woman Lola Felicidad dies without seeing justice

THE SURVIVORS of heinous sexual crimes the Japanese committed are dying without receiving a formal apology and legal compensation from Japan.

Lola Felicidad delos Reyes, a member of Lila Filipina, died last week of pneumonia at the Labor Hospital in Quezon City at the age of 92. She was born on Nov. 22, 1928 in Masbate.

Sometime in 1943, Felicidad was only 14 years old when she was made to sing in front of Japanese soldiers along with her other classmates. Impressed with her performance, she was told that she will receive a gift at the garrison.

However, when she reached the place, she was taken inside a room. Japanese soldiers forced her down onto the ground. When she struggled, another punched her in the face while another grabbed her legs and held them apart. Then they took turns to rape her.

Lola Felicing did not understand what they were doing to her since she had no knowledge about sex. She did not even have her menstruation.

When she begged them to stop, they just laughed.  Whenever she struggled or screamed, they would punch and kick her.

Confused, frightened, tired and in pain, she drifted in and out of consciousness. For the next three days a succession of soldiers abused her until she was allowed to go home because she became very ill.

Her older sister had been taken by the Japanese just the year before and died in a comfort house.

Lola Felicing kept silent for almost 40 years.

It was in the late 1990s that she came out as part of Lila Filipina to tell the world about this inhuman practice of the Japanese during the war with the hope that such an ordeal will never happen again to any woman.

The demise of Lola Felicing is a sad reality that the Filipino comfort women and those forced into sexual violence by Japanese invasion and occupation troops during World War II are dying without seeing justice.

It has been almost 75 years since the war ended on Aug. 15, 1945, and yet the Japanese government refuses to recognize its official accountability to the victims of sexual slavery.  

Justice has not been given to women such as Lola Felicing as their fight for unequivocal public apology, accurate historical inclusion, and just compensation continues up to this day.

To date, the life-size statue of two women in Caticlan, Malay, Aklan is the last remaining statue that symbolizes the struggles of the Lolas.     

The statue was installed on Feb. 5, 2019 and stands on the property owned by the family of women’s rights activist Nelia Sancho, who accompanied Lola Felicing in testifying before international venues in the late 1990s.

“The purpose of the statue is to show that there was a war crime in World War II, and that is military sexual slavery. And it is unsettled so we don’t want that it is forgotten. It’s because (the victims) are now old, starting to passed away, and with their death, we don’t want the issue to die down with them,” Sancho said.

Even if it is a reminder of a painful past, the remaining statue honors the memory, courage and resilience of these Filipino women.

On December 2017, Tulay Foundation’s  two-meter-high “Lola” statue of an unnamed woman wearing a traditional Filipino dress, blindfolded, with hands clutched to her chest, was installed along Roxas Boulevard in Manila.

The Lola statue represented Filipino women’s dignity and stands as “a reminder that wars of aggression must always be opposed, and that sexual slavery and violence should never happen again to any woman, anywhere at any time.”

Four months later the statue was dismantled under cover of darkness on April 27, 2018 by the Department of Public Works and Highways, allegedly for a drainage improvement project, but seen as a submission to protests from Japan.

Issues of historical revisionism and the government’s submission to Japanese policy were raised by concerned groups led by the Flowers-for-Lolas as they condemned the removal of the statue. President Duterte earlier remarked the state would not want to “antagonize” other countries.

Unfortunately, the statue is now missing.

Despite several follow-ups on the formal turn-over of the “Lola” statue back to Tulay for its reinstallation last August 2019, its artist Jonas Roces failed to do so. He later told Tulay that the “Lola” statue was taken by unidentified men from his art studio in Cainta Rizal.

Despite the absence of the “Lola” statue, a new metal historical marker dedicated to the Lolas was unveiled at Baclaran Church.

Another Lola statue, a young woman with fists resting on her lap, has been removed from the  Catholic-run Mary Mother of Mercy shelter for the elderly and the homeless in San Pedro, Laguna, only two days after its unveiling  January of last year.

From their original number of more than 200 in the late 1990s, less than 50 survivors are still alive, highlighting a sense of urgency for them to receive a formal apology and legal compensation from Japan while their voices can still be heard.

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Atty. Dennis R. Gorecho heads the seafarers’ division of the Sapalo Velez Bundang Bulilan law offices. For comments, email [email protected], or call 09175025808 or 09088665786./PN

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