China’s President Xi can provide key to handling the issue of comfort women

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MAURO GIA SAMONTE

I thought I had said enough on the issue of comfort women. As I concluded my article on Saturday last week, I decided the matter was better left untouched. But then I happened to attend the regular breakfast forum hosted by Wilson Lee at the Kamuning Bakery last Tuesday and the controversy over the statue of comfort women on Roxas Boulevard was the topic. That prompted me to recall the speech President Xi Jinping delivered before the 19th People’s Congress of the Communist Party of China in October last year.

To the comfort women issue, I believe this portion of President Xi’s speech is relevant: “China will continue to hold high the banner of peace, development, cooperation and mutual benefit and uphold its fundamental policy goal of preserving world peace and promoting common development. China remains firm in its commitment to strengthen friendship and cooperation with other countries on the basis of the Five Principles of Peaceful Co-existence, and to forging a new form of international relations featuring mutual respect, fairness, justice and win-win cooperation.”

On the whole, the statements are expressions of an unequivocal stand for peace and cooperation among nations. They are well in accord with President Xi’s vision of a world community of shared destiny, repeatedly stressed in the speech.

But the Kamuning Bakery forum immediately struck a discordant note in regard to this stand by President Xi, who ended the speech without any allusion to war. Although he did take an occasion to stress that China was prepared to uphold as well its sovereignty and territorial integrity at all times, it was, at most, a declaration of self-defense, which was far from being warlike.


In contrast, the statements delivered by the Kamuning Bakery forum panelists, the tandem of Gabriela Chair Partylist Representative Arlene Brosas and the group’s Secretary General, Joms Salvador, were adversarial, if not belligerent. In any case, they indicated a readiness to take up their cause in the militant manner it has been conducting its mass actions for advancing a variety of women’s issues and a host of other social concerns.

As I stated in my previous article on the topic, “Rape of Women in War is A Grievous Given,” the topic of women defiled, along with cannibalism and bestiality, is on top of my list of taboos. The reason for this is that not only is it extremely demeaning to the victims, more so in the case of victims who are now late septuagenarians or octogenarians, but also, in the specific circumstance of war, it must be accepted as an unavoidable collateral damage. I know of no granddaughter who would appreciate the public shaming of her lola (grandma) even for the sake of such extreme, albeit abstract, imperatives as justice and historical integrity.

China herself was among the worst sufferers of World War II, with the rape of Nanking being rated next to the Holocaust in the degree of atrociousness, but with President Xi Jinping firmly holding on to his dream of a world community of common destiny, I am constrained to assume that that sorry episode in China’s history will not get in the way of building friendly relations with Japan on a solid basis.

President Xi states: “China will deepen relations with its neighbors in accordance with the principle of amity, sincerity, mutual benefit and inclusiveness, and the policy of forging friendship and partnership with its neighbor.”

I cannot imagine China veering away from President Xi’s vision by striking up a belligerent stance against Japan over war offenses committed against the nation and its people. Yet, the way I gathered it from the Kamuning Bakery forum, the Gabriela tandem of Brosas and Salvador was harping on just those past offenses in trying to drum up support for its stand, contrary to its perceived war-oriented military build-up of Japan in the Asia Pacific region.

Okay, I subscribe to the proposition that Japan has no business pressuring the Philippine government into dismantling the Comfort Women statue on Roxas Boulevard. If we are talking about history, then that comfort women statue has, having been already erected and solemnized in fitting ceremonies, become part of Philippine heritage that must, like all other aspects of that heritage, be protected at all cost.

President Xi must be addressing this issue by citing the Five Principles of Peaceful Co-existence as basis for strengthening friendship and cooperation among nations, namely, mutual respect for sovereignty and territorial integrity, mutual non-aggression, mutual non-interference in each other’s internal affairs, equality and mutual benefit, and peaceful co-existence.

Clearly, Japan, if it is true that it is applying pressure upon the Philippine government to get the Comfort Women statue removed, violates these principles, at least on two counts: respect for sovereignty and territorial integrity, and non-interference in each other’s internal affairs. In this respect, the Tulay Foundation, initiators of the historical marker, is justified in protesting the Japanese intervention and its call for support of its campaign to protect the statue from dismantlement is well in place.

Let’s keep the controversy at that. To go beyond – to venture into a tirade exposing the war designs of Japan; to insinuate that President Rodrigo Duterte will bow down to Japan and get the statue torn down; to call for a militant people’s movement in achieving one’s objectives – makes one’s objectives in this whole exercise suspect. These calls will necessarily lead to an open confrontation. Can this be an advocacy of China?

President Xi Jinping states: “We call on the people of all countries to work together to build a community with a shared future for mankind, to build an open, inclusive, clean, and beautiful world that enjoys lasting peace, universal security, and common prosperity. We should respect each other, discuss issues as equals, resolutely reject the cold war mentality and power politics, and take a new approach to developing state-to-state relations with communication, not confrontation, and with partnership, not alliance. We should commit to settling disputes through dialogue and resolving differences through discussion, coordinate responses to traditional and non-traditional threats, and oppose terrorism in all its forms.”

The issue of comfort women first surfaced in the Philippines in 1993, when Maria Rosa Luna Henson came out to expose the sexual slavery imposed upon Filipino women by the Japanese during the war. I had been grappling with the question of exactly what prompted the then 69-year-old grandmother to come out into the open and admit her shame publicly. (In her book Comfort Woman: A Slave of Destiny, she admits having been raped by as many as 30 Japanese soldiers in a day, and on a daily basis the number of Japanese troops that feasted on her fourteen-year-old chastity did not fall below 12.)

So to the Gabriela stalwarts I threw the question, “When was Gabriela formed and did it play any part in the public self-shaming of Lola Rosa?”

In a lengthy fashion, Brosas and Salvador took turns elaborating their answers to the question which, as the latter put it, “to make a long story short,” sum up to: “Gabriela was formed in 1984 (this was the period of widespread upheavals resulting from the, what I call, euthanasia Benigno Aquino Jr. inflicted upon himself at the Manila International Airport tarmac on August 21, 1983). And, yes, they took an active part in Lola Rosa’s grand performance.”

Question answered.

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