Against forgetting

If I am not mistaken, I think it was Erich Hobsbawm who said that memory is not a simple record of events but a dynamic process that always transforms what it dredges up from its depths. He also said that recollection is a zone of contact between past, present, and future and that history is a protest against forgetting. I cannot remember where I read all that, but here I am unabashedly stealing Hobsbawm’s profound words.

The statue of a Filipino “comfort woman” recently erected at the intersection of Roxas Boulevard and Quirino Avenue is clearly a protest against forgetting. It embodies the outcry of the surviving comfort women and the descendants of those who have passed on. Let the statue be the symbol of our collective outrage at how Filipino women (for that matter Filipino men) were degraded with unspeakable cruelty by the conquering Japanese military forces.

As you know, other Asian countries, which were also occupied by Japan during the Second World War, have gone through the process of dredging deeply into their history and have built monuments, museums, and shrines to their “comfort women.” In South Korea there is a “House of Sharing” which includes “The Museum of Sexual Slavery by Japanese Military.” Taiwan has its memorabilia. In Nanjing, People’s China, there is a monument next to the Nanjing Massacre Memorial Hall. Even in the USA, there are structures in remembrance of “comfort women” – in Palisades Park, New Jersey; Glendale, California; Southfield, Michigan; Korea Town, New Jersey. Japanese residing in those places have been worried about the hatred memory may provoke.

The “comfort women” of the Philippines were silent for 50 years, then the past and present finally merged into one zone of recollection. The “lolas” surfaced and formed Lila Pilipina (League of Filipino Women) to demand a formal apology from the Japanese government, compensation, and above all, the inclusion of the “comfort women”  issue in Japanese history textbooks. They also demanded that their own government support the objectives of Lila Pilipina. There were plans to take their case to the United Nations. Two edifying books have been published: Comfort Women: Slave of Destiny by Rosa Henson and The Hidden Battle of Leyte: The picture of a girl taken by the Japanese military by Renedios Delias.  I hope these are still available in my favorite bookstores.

I am not surprised that the Embassy of Japan has strongly protested, but I am dismayed that this has sent our Secretary of Foreign Affairs to rootle around for the “culprit,” or “culprits,”  as it has turned out. The list is not short: Tulay Foundation chaired by a certain Mr. Chua seems to be the primary suspect, but so is the Department of Public Works and Highways because the location is public property. The National Historical Commission of the Philippines is an “agency of interest” specially because it’s OIC and executive director were sighted during the unveiling. As for the City of Manila, after internal finger-pointing, the mayor’s EA quickly denied that he ever issued a permit for the supposedly offensive piece of sculpture.

Unable to identify the guilty one, Secretary Cayetano declared that the “comfort women” issue had already been addressed by the Reparations Commission, ages ago before he was born. Show us the documents, please, Alan Peter. I will never understand why we Filipinos quake at the rumblings of our own history. Have we been so traumatized by wars of conquest that we dare not offend those who have oppressed us?

I remember the time when the late (and much lamented) Mrs. Maria Theresa Roxas was the president of the Cultural Center of the Philippines (CCP). She would be so outraged at the attempts of the Japanese embassy and other private sector groups to hold all kinds of cultural festivities at the CCP, and other public places, precisely during the month of February when we  commemorate the Battle for Manila and remember the 100,000 civilian  non-combatants who were killed by the enemies. She was a feisty lady who was not afraid of history.

Does Secretary Cayetano know that there is a monument of Generals Masaharu Homma and Tomoyuki Yamashita in Los Baños? And that during the reenactments of the Death March, there are participants waving Japanese flags? In Mabalacat, Pampanga, there is a statue in honor of the Kempeitai. Don’t tell me that is meant to attract more tourists from Japan. For 73 long years,  we have been bending over backwards so afraid of hurting Japan, it is about time we unveil a statue to remember their victims, the lolas, the Filipino “comfort women.”