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Comfort Women at the Center of Strained Japanese Filipino Relations

Comfort Women at the Center of Strained Japanese Filipino Relations

Comfort Women at the Center of Strained Japanese Filipino Relations

From his Manila, Philippines office, Alan Peter Cayetano, the Filipino Foreign Secretary, recently warned of a new height in failing relations between Japan and the island nation of the Philippines. At the center of the strained relations is a controversial statue recently placed overlooking the iconic and beautiful Manila Bay. The statue was created in honor of the women throughout the Philippines that were forced to serve the Japanese occupying army as prostitutes during World War II. The statue was built without proper permits and has also been the source of an official complaint submitted by the Japanese government through the Japanese Filipino foreign Secretary.

Taking a fairly serious tone, Mr. Cayetano has recently begun warning his Filipino political colleagues and other government officials that Filipino-Japanese relations cannot possibly improve if a decades-old issue like this keeps bubbling to the surface, referring specifically to the recently installed comfort women statue. Mr. Cayetano went on to state that if Japan and the Philippines are to continue to remain strong trading and economic allies, that Filipinos must move on from the heated issue as soon as is possible.

Japan has paid the Philippines hundreds of millions of dollars in restitution for its past World War II grievances and atrocities, all part of a wider deal that was reached as part of 1956 peace agreement. This 1956 Reparations Agreement was mutually agreed to by the Philippines and Japan, with Japan fully paying all $550 million in owed reparations.

South Korea has recently found itself in a similar situation as the Philippines, as many Korean women were also forced into prostitution by the invading Japanese army. Like the Philippines, the comfort women issue frequently bubbles to the political surface in South Korea, regularly becoming a source of sour contemporary relations with Japan.

Japan, on the other hand, has worked very diligently to resolve the issue within the Philippines and elsewhere throughout Asia where its troops were once stationed. Experts state that Japan has regularly met all of its obligations regarding any comfort women agreements, and in many cases, Japan has even gone above and beyond such agreements by setting up sexual abuse victim foundations to address such matters.

Foreign affairs experts have stated that while the comfort women stories issue remains a hot and heated topic within the Philippines, it doesn’t appear to be an issue that will cause any deep or long-term strain between the two nation states. Japan and the Philippines have deep economic ties with each other, and both equally benefit from a healthy long-term relationship.

President Rodrigo Duterte, the extremely popular leader of the Philippines, has even stated his own opinion on the controversial comfort women statue issue. President Duterte stated that whoever put the statue in place without permits was legally able to do so as their constitutional right. The President also stated that the message behind the statue is the God-given right of any comfort women or relatives still living with the horrific memories of those decades-old atrocities. While President Duterte has strong opinions on this issue, he has not signaled that his nation will be seeking to distance itself from healthy relations with Japan.

The issue of the controversial statue has not yet reached the level of being a national government issue for the Philippines, and it is not expected to move to that level. Many historians in the Philippines do not even believe that the issue should be a diplomatic or political issue, rather it should be an issue about national healing and atonement, as well as a healthy means of expressing a past grievance that Japan has worked to heal.

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