Comfort women: Last remaining Japanese sex slaves from World War II sing "forget us not"

Pilar Galang and Maria Quilantang are two former World War Two sex slaves, known as "comfort women," who were forced into military brothels in South Korea, the Philippines, Taiwan, China, and Indonesia by the Japanese Imperial Army. The group of 20 or so women in the farming village of Mapaniqui are among the last survivors in the Philippines. They were snatched from their homes, dragged on dusty roads, and imprisoned in a blood-red house where they were repeatedly raped repeatedly. Now in their late 80s to early 90s, the Malaya Lolas (Free Grandmothers) continue to fight for a public apology and compensation from Japan, both of which have eluded them for decades. The group leader, Ms. Quilantang, hopes to get justice before they die, as there are only a few of them left and they are all in their twilight years. On a sweltering afternoon, the group, which calls themselves Malaya Lolas or Free Grandmothers in Filipino, gathered as they have for decades to sing their story in slow a cappella verses. They cried, pleaded for a little compassion, and their bestial hearts only craved satisfaction. Ms. Quilantang turns serious when she is eight when she was raped in that red house in the middle of a rice field. Up to this day, she gets flashbacks when she sees that house from across the highway, now attracting ghost hunters and historians. So many crumbling World War Two structures remain in the grandmothers' village, located in Candaba town, a two-hour drive north of the capital, Manila. Furthermore, far more mundane things also trigger flashbacks. When she sees soil drenched in rain, she remembers the time during her captivity when her only source of drinking water were the deep footprints of water buffaloes that ploughed the rice fields. What they carry is quite a burden, as she had so many dreams when she was a kid. Japan has insisted that any attempt by the Philippine women to seek compensation must be backed by their government. The Malaya Lolas' appeal to force the government to do so went as high up as the Supreme Court but failed. They raised their case with the UN's Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (Cedaw), which in March this year ruled that Manila must compensate the grandmothers and apologise to them for the decades of suffering and discrimination. This is a symbolic moment of victory for these victims who were previously silenced, ignored, written off, and erased from history in the Philippines. Ms. Suarez, the Malaya Lolas' lawyer, said government agencies had released thousands of pesos in aid to her clients since the Cedaw ruling. But, she adds, they will never stop campaigning for an apology from Japan. An apology is really important to the lolas because it is an admission of wrongdoing. "Japan committed a very grave sin against them. The world should not forget that and they should pay for that." For Ms. Quilantang, the fight will go on for as long as people will listen.


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