Do You Deserve the “You Did Good” Speech?


  • Created at2023.06.12
  • Updated at2023.07.31


“You make me feel like I’m a burden all the time”[1]

A unit of the global organization is urging the national authorities to either create a memorial to preserve the site of Bahay na Pula (Red House) or establish another space to commemorate the Japanese military “Comfort Women” victim-survivors and honor their struggle for justice.

The Malaya Lolas is a group of women who survived the “comfort system” of sexual exploitation instituted by the Japanese occupying forces in World War II.[1] The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women found that the Philippine government violated the rights of these victims by failing to provide reparation, social support, and recognition for the harm they suffered.[1]

Isabelita C. Vinuya, Victoria C. Dela Peña, Herminihilda Manimbo, Leonor H. Sumawang, Candelaria L. Soliman, Maria L. Quilantang, Maria L. Magisa, Natalia M. Alonzo, Lourdes M. Navaro, Francisca M. Atencio, Erlinda Manalastas, Tarcila M. Sampang, Ester M. Palacio, Maxima R. Dela Cruz, Belen A. Sagum, Felicidad Turla, Florencia M. Dela Peña, Eugenia M. Lalu, Juliana G. Magat, Cecilia Sanguyo, Ana Alonzo, Rufina P. Mallari, Rosario M. Alarcon, Rufina C. Gulapa, Zoila B. Manalus, Corazon C. Calma, Marta A. Gulapa, Teodora M. Hernandez, Fermin B. Dela Peña, Maria Dela Paz B. Culala, Esperanza Manapol, Juanita M. Briones, Verginia M. Guevarra, Maxima Angulo, Emilia Sangil, Teofila R. Punzalan, Januaria G. Garcia, Perla B. Balingit, Belen A. Culala, Pilar Q. Galang, Rosario C. Buco, Gaudencia C. Dela Peña, Rufina Q. Catacutan, Francia A. Buco, Pastora C. Guevarra, Victoria M. Dela Cruz, Petronila O. Dela Cruz, Zenaida P. Dela Cruz, Corazon M. Suba, Emerinciana A. Vinuya, Lydia A. Sanchez, Rosalina M. Buco, Patricia A. Bernardo, Lucila H. Payawal, Magdalena Liwag, Ester C. Balingit, Jovita A. David, Emilia C. Mangilit, Verginia M. Bangit, Guilerma S. Balingit, Terecita Pangilinan, Mamerta C. Puno, Crisenciana C. Gulapa, Seferina S. Turla, Maxima B. Turla, Leonicia G. Guevarra, Rosalina M. Culala, Catalina Y. Manio, Mamerta T. Sagum, Caridad L. Turla, among others, testified that they were forcibly taken to the headquarters of the Japanese Imperial Army in San Ildefonso, Pampanga province on November 23, 1944.

They were detained there (Bahay na Pula or Red House) for one day to three weeks and were repeatedly subjected to rape and other sexual violence, torture, and inhumane detention conditions. The women have endured long-term consequences, including physical injuries, post-traumatic stress, permanent damage to their ability to have children, and other harm that has impacted their relationships and social standing.[1]

Such historical facts have been accepted by the Supreme Court of the Republic of the Philippines: “Daily life as a ‘Comfort Woman’ was ‘unmitigated misery’. The military forced victims into barracks-style stations divided into tiny cubicles where they were forced to live, sleep, and have sex with as many as 30 soldiers per day. The 30 minutes allotted for sexual relations with each soldier were 30-minute increments of unimaginable horror for the women. Disease was rampant. Military doctors regularly examined the women, but these checks were carried out to prevent the spread of venereal diseases; little notice was taken of the frequent cigarette burns, bruises, bayonet stabs and even broken bones inflicted on the women by soldiers. Fewer than 30% of the women survived the war. Their agony continued in having to suffer with the residual physical, psychological, and emotional scars from their former lives. Some returned home and were ostracized by their families. Some committed suicide. Others, out of shame, never returned home.” [G.R. No. 162230, April 28, 2010]

Moreover, the justice who wrote the decision admitted, “Of course, we greatly sympathize with the cause of petitioners, and we cannot begin to comprehend the unimaginable horror they underwent at the hands of the Japanese soldiers. We are also deeply concerned that, in apparent contravention of fundamental principles of law, the petitioners appear to be without a remedy to challenge those who have offended them before appropriate fora. Needless to say, our government should take the lead in protecting its citizens against violations of their fundamental human rights. Regrettably, it is not within our power to order the Executive Department to take up the petitioners’ cause. Our power is only to urge and exhort the Executive Department to take up petitioners’ cause.”[1]

Nonetheless, the Malaya Lolas are requesting the High Tribunal to reconsider its April 28, 2010 decision and declare: (1) that the rapes, sexual slavery, torture and other forms of sexual violence committed against the Filipina “Comfort Women” are crimes against humanity and war crimes under customary international law; and (2) that the Philippines is not bound by the Treaty of Peace with Japan, with regard to the waiver of the claims of the Filipina “Comfort Women” against Japan. Furthermore, they have petitioned the Supreme Court to direct the Secretary of Foreign Affairs and the Executive Secretary to champion the claims of Filipina “Comfort Women” for an official apology, legal compensation, and other forms of reparation from Japan.[1]

Unfortunately, the High Tribunal denied the Motion for Reconsideration and Supplemental Motion for Reconsideration, stating that they lacked merit. [G.R. No. 162230. August 12, 2014] Thus, the recourse to CEDAW.

“Suffering in Silent Bondage”

Natalia Alonzo and 23 Filipino nationals were heard by Brenda Akia, Hiroko Akizuki, Marion Bethel, Leticia Bonifaz Alfonzo, Ms. Rangita De Silva de Alwis, Corinne Dettmeijer-Vermeulen, Esther Eghobamien-Mshelia, Hilary Gbedemah, Yamila González Ferrer, Dafna Hacker Dror, Nahla Haidar, Dalia Leinarte, Marianne Mikko, Maya Morsy, Ana Pelaez Narvaez, Bandana Rana, Rhoda Reddock, Elgun Safarov, Natasha Stott Despoja and Genoveva Tisheva in their 84th session (06–24 February 2023). The result of their complaint was that the Philippines should "establish an effective, nationwide reparation scheme to provide all forms of redress to victims of war crimes, including sexual violence, with equal access for men who are war veterans and women who are survivors of wartime sexual slavery to recognition, social benefits, and other support measures to which they are entitled.

This is not an impossible task given the Philippines’ workable social security system (Pantawid Pampamilya, GSIS, SSS, PhilHealth, Pag-Ibig Fund, AFPSLAI, etc.). The barrier is the neoliberal orientation of the economic managers.

The missed opportunity here was House Bill 9046 or the “Comfort Women” Compensation and Benefit Act (filed back in 2019 in the bigger chamber of the Philippine Congress), which would have granted a monthly 3,000-peso pension and free full medical insurance for the “Comfort Women.” The proposed law would have tasked the Philippine Veterans Affairs Office to provide the pension and the Department of Social Welfare and Development to formulate a program for the proper counseling and guidance of “Comfort Women” taking into consideration not only their ordeal in the hands of the Japanese Occupational Army, but more so the pain and suffering of retelling them in public.[1]Further back in time (a whole decade in fact) in the 16th Congress of the Republic, a legislator (Pia S. Cayetano) in the upper chamber had filed Senate Bill No. 331, an Act Providing for Pension And Health Benefits To “Comfort Women.”[1]It did not become a law.

As for cultural programs, there is nothing preventing the Cultural Center of the Philippines and its nine resident companies from featuring the plight of the Malaya Lolas. The same goes for the National Historical Commission of the Philippines and its museums. However, there was another missed opportunity in this area: House Bill 372, authored by Gabriela Party-list Reps. Arlene Brosas and Emmi De Jesus, and approved by the House Committee on Women and Gender Equality (chaired by Rep. Bernadette Herrera-Dy) in 2019. The proposed law would have created the National Filipino Women’s Museum to implement the policy of the State to recognize women’s contributions to the development of Filipinos as a nation.[1]

The Philippines’ ninth Periodic Report on the implementation of the CEDAW cites the Safe Spaces Act and the Anti-Mail Order Spouse Act, but there is no mention of the “Comfort Women.” When asked, the Philippine Commission on Women gives sympathetic statements.

The site where the Statue of Peace once stood is now vacant ⓒ Baek Jeong-mi


The most consistent position is being held by the Philippine Commission on Human Rights, which deplored the mysterious disappearance of an icon five years ago: “Statues of Peace are built to remember and respect struggles in our history. In this light, the Commission is deeply concerned that the monument intended to honor the pain and struggles of our so-called “Comfort Women” during the World War II was taken down like a thief in the night, akin to equally robbing us of our sense of history and national identity.”

“The relocation of the Statue of Peace to a private area also insults the memory of our Filipinas who, after years of being silent, mustered the courage to step out of the dark to tell their stories, claim back their dignity, and call for reparations for the wrongs done to their humanity. Although it presents a grim side of our past, the monument also urges us to never again allow the dignity of Filipino women be trampled and compromised—in any way, form, or expression...It has taken decades for these “Comfort Women” to come forward. Only a few of them remain alive today. In honor of their human dignity, we must resist efforts to remove them, not only from public consciousness, but also from our national history.”[1]

This constitutional body was quick to respond to the recent CEDAW ruling: “As the country’s independent national human rights institution, the Commission on Human Rights urges the Government of the Philippines to seriously consider and act on the recommendations of the Committee, particularly with regards to providing the victims ‘full reparation, including recognition and redress, an official apology, and material and moral damages’ proportionate to the physical, psychological, and material damage suffered by them and the gravity of the violation of their rights experienced.”

“Pursuing transitional justice goes beyond monetary compensation. CHR also recommends that full recognition of the dignity of ‘Comfort Women’ should include seeking an apology from the Japanese government and putting back the Statue of Peace that once stood in Manila Bay, which was removed in 2018, but it should be reinstated in honor of the stories and struggles of Filipina ‘Comfort Women’ and as a reminder of the abhorrence to the violences of war.”[1]

However, according to the Presidential Communications Office, the Philippine government has only taken note of the findings of the recent CEDAW ruling.[1]

During the 67th Session of the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women (CSW67) in New York City on International Women’s Day, Interior and Local Government Undersecretary Margarita Gutierrez discussed the Anti-Online Sexual Abuse or Exploitation of Children and Anti-Child Sexual Abuse or Exploitation Materials Act. However, she made no mention of the “Comfort Women” issue.[1]

The positive response in the executive branch came a day after the CEDAW release from Department of Justice Secretary Jesus Crispin Remulla. He told reporters that he will talk to the leaders of Congress about the needed legislation: “We have to continue doing that job as part of the international obligations that we have and that is history, something that is common, most known to us. We do not want justice to be too late (kasi ilan na lang nabubuhay sa kanila kaya sana mahabol pa natin) because only a few of them are still alive, and we want them to benefit from the law. At least we will try to extend our help while there is time (kung kaya pang habulin ‘yung tulong, ihabol natin)). Personally, I think money is a small sum to pay for a grievous injury suffered by a person. Money can never replace what happened to them.”[1]

In addition, Justice Undersecretary Raul Vasquez and the study group responsible for addressing the comprehensive policy for “Comfort Women” reparation ought to consider the CEDAW Committee’s fifth recommendation (“To mainstream in the curricula of all academic institutions, including secondary university education, the history of Philippine women victims/survivors of wartime sexual slavery”) via the lens of House Bill No. 5719, which mandates the comprehensive study of Philippine history during World War II in all institutions of higher learning. The bill has been transmitted to the Senate, and when it becomes a law, it will not only preserve for posterity the stories of heroism of Filipino soldiers whose great struggle against the Japanese occupational forces helped the United Nations win the Anti-Fascist War, but also educate the youth on the values of patriotism and nationalism. In this mechanism, the teaching of the role of national heroes and heroines in the historical development of the country certainly includes the “Comfort Women” and their campaign for justice.[1]

When the Hunters-ROTC Historical Society, an organization dedicated to preserving, collecting, researching, and interpreting historical information on a Filipino guerrilla unit active during the Japanese occupation of the Philippines, helped draft the bill and lobbied for its approval, they clarified that the reality of the Japanese military “Comfort Women” is integral to the coverage of World War II studies.

To recap, on March 9, 2023, the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women found that the Philippines failed to fulfill its treaty obligations under the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) by not seeking redress for the Japanese military “Comfort Women” victims of sexual violence by the Japanese armed forces.

This decision came about as a result of a complaint filed by 24 members of the NGO known as the Malaya Lolas. As there are only a few remaining survivors, it is crucial that the Philippine government take immediate action to provide meaningful reparations. In response, Senator Risa Hontiveros filed P.S. Res. No. 539 on March 13, 2023, urging the Philippine government to immediately fulfill its treaty obligations under CEDAW and provide just and meaningful reparations to the "Comfort Women" and their families.

Even as we await the fulfillment of UN recommendations by both the 19th Congress and the Marcos Junior Administration, my students and I continue to interview Filipino officials about their knowledge, attitudes and practices concerning the global campaign for justice for the Japanese military “Comfort Women” victims.


Not just the singer but the song

The lyrics of “Comfort Woman” by Neighborhood Brats from the album “Claw Marks” go: “That doesn’t change the way you treat me when we are alone, A “Comfort Woman” to make you feel all right, I’m not the one, I’m not the one.”

When you talk, you say “I'm sorry”
You make me feel like I'm a burden all of the time

A comfort woman to make you feel alright
I'm not the one, I'm not the one
A comfort woman when she is not around
I'm not the one, I'm not the one

Suffering in silent bondage
That don't change the way you treat me when we are alone

A comfort woman to make you feel alright
I'm not the one, I'm not the one
A comfort woman when she is not around
I'm not the one, I'm not the one

A comfort woman to make you feel alright
I'm not the one, I'm not the one
A comfort woman fights the war at home
I'm not the one, I'm not the one

I'm not the one
I'm not the one
I'm not the one
I'm not the one

The above is the complete lyrics of the song "Comfort Woman" from the album "Claw Marks" by the band Neighborhood Brats.



  1. ^ The subtitles in this article have been derived from the lyrics of the song "Comfort Woman" by the band Neighborhood Brats, which are quoted at the end.
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Bernard Karganilla is a professor in the Department of Social Sciences at the University of Philippines Manila. He has been honored with the U.P. Professorial Chair Award in Social Sciences for Outstanding Teaching from 2019 to 2021. Specializing in research on World War II, he actively contributes as a columnist to the Filipino journal "Malaya Business Insight" while conducting research on historical issues.