MANILA — A group of Philippine “comfort women,” forced to work in Japanese military brothels in World War II, accused their government on Wednesday of not doing enough to help them secure an apology and compensation from Japan.
South Korea and Japan last month reached an agreement to resolve the issue as Tokyo made an apology and promised about 1 billion yen (US$8.43 million) for a fund to help survivors, though many South Koreans were angry a deal had been made.
In a statement, the Philippine comfort women said they feared the South China Sea dispute with China had distracted Manila from seeking justice from Japan, which occupied the Philippines from 1942 to 1945.
“Each day that they are ignored by their own government, any hope of official acknowledgment and reparations grows dimmer as the shadows of old age and mortality cast a dark pall on them,” lawyer Harry Roque said in a statement.
“The victims of horrendous human rights violations should not be used by our government as leverage in its talk with Japan for support against China over the West Philippine Sea controversy.”
About 1,000 Philippine women were forced into prostitution by Japanese troops during World War II. The protesting comfort women belonged to a group called “Malaya Lolas,” or freed grandmothers.
There was no immediate comment from the foreign ministry or president’s office.
The Philippines and Japan are discussing the transfer of military equipment, like surveillance planes and patrol boats, to help strengthen the Philippines’ capability to guard its maritime borders as China rapidly expands in the South China Sea.
Beijing claims almost all the South China Sea, which is believed to have huge deposits of oil and gas, and through which about $5 trillion in ship-borne trade passes every year, and has been building up facilities on the islands it controls.
Brunei, Malaysia, Vietnam, Taiwan and the Philippines also have claims. Tension rose this week when China landed a civilian plane on one of three airstrips it had built on man-made islands in the Spratlys.
Japan has also made available about $2 billion for roads and railways to upgrade the Philippines’ dilapidated infrastructure and untangle traffic gridlock in the capital.