Japanese Emperor Akihito offered flowers Friday at a shrine built in the Philippines for Japanese soldiers killed during Japan’s brutal World War II occupation of the Southeast Asian nation.
The 82-year-old monarch and his wife, Empress Michiko, bowed twice while laying white bouquets at a table in front of the marble shrine located in the lake town of Caliraya, Laguna.
The imperial couple spoke and shook hands with former Japanese soldiers as well as relatives of their comrades killed in the Philippines.
“You have survived difficult times,” Michiko said to one of the soldiers in attendance.
Akihito, meanwhile, told another: “Take care of yourself, stay well.”
The royals are winding up a five-day visit to the Philippines to celebrate 60 years of diplomatic ties.
Akihito has made honoring Japanese and non-Japanese who died in World War II a touchstone of his near three-decade reign.
Tens of thousands of Philippine and allied US troops died marching to Japanese concentration camps or in confinement during Japan’s World War II occupation.
An estimated 100,000 Filipinos also died during the month-long campaign to liberate Manila in 1945, which saw aerial bombings and artillery flatten the city.
Akihito’s visit is the first by a Japanese emperor to the Philippines and comes as the two countries strengthen economic and defense ties, partly to counter China’s increasingly assertive actions in disputed regional waters.
But the visit has been marked by small protests by women forced to serve as sex slaves for Japanese occupation troops who are demanding a belated apology and compensation.
“The emperor’s visit to the shrine is improper. Their soldiers committed many crimes in our country,” Isabelita Vinuya, 84, said as she and nine other ex-sex slaves held candles outside the Japanese embassy in Manila on Friday.
“The state visit of their Imperial Majesties… serves to strengthen the friendship between the Filipino and Japanese peoples as both nations mark the completion of six decades of harmonious relationship,” presidential spokesman Herminio Coloma said Friday.
Coloma said the royal couple, who are departing for Japan on Saturday, are epitomes of pure kindness.
Since they arrived last Tuesday, the royal couple had visited a Japanese school in Manila, witnessed the world-renowned Manila Bay Sunset while at Hotel Sofitel in Pasay City, graced a banquet hosted by President Benigno Aquino 3rd and paid tribute to the fallen Filipino soldiers at the Libingan ng mga Bayani in Taguig City.
“Their Imperial Majesties are exemplars of humility, congeniality and heartwarming empathy,” Coloma said.
In Malacañang, Aquino showed the couple a portrait of former President Emilio Aguinaldo, whom Akihito and Michiko met during their first visit to the country in 1962. Aguinaldo died two years later.
Meanwhile, the grandson of national hero Gen. Miguel Malvar urged the families of both departed and surviving World War II veterans and victims of the war themselves to “formally extend the act of forgiveness spiritually and morally to the Japanese people” through the Imperial couple.
Jose Malvar Villegas, the founding chairman of the Citizens Crime Watch and other non-government organizations, said “forgiveness” should be the country’s “parting gift” to the royal couple.
The hero general Malvar was the last general to surrender to the Americans in 1902 and he was the last supreme commander of the 1898 Philippine Republic.
Villegas, who was the legal counsel for the World War II Legionnaires of the Philippines that won an award, through a 1991 Supreme Court decisions, of 502 hectares of property in Diliman, Quezon City, said he will cause the donation of 10 hectares from the 50 hectares contingent legal service he is entitled to “as an effort to truly heal spiritually and morally the wounds left by the war.”
“The subject ten hectares shall be dedicated and be used as a symbol of the Filipino people by truly forgiving spiritually and morally the Japanese people and move forward under a co-prosperity sphere to provide world class facilities,” Villegas said in a statement released by his executive secretary, Don Antonio Nieva.
He said the “forgiveness plaque” and the deed of donation of the 10-hectare property shall be given as a “farewell gift” of all loving and “forgiving” Filipinos to the Japanese royal couple through Japanese Ambassador to the Philippines Kazuhide Ishikawa.