Tacloban — Over 1,000 Japanese troops received a warm welcome from Filipinos Friday as they began relief operations across the typhoon-devastated islands, which they brutally occupied during the Second World War seven decades ago.
In the largest overseas deployment of Japan’s military since its defeat in World War II, the troops came aboard three ships that arrived in the Philippine port of Cebu.
They join a huge international effort to help survivors of Typhoon Haiyan, which killed at least 5,500 and devastated dozens of towns in the central Philippines.
But not everyone in the Philippines welcomes the idea of Japanese soldiers on Filipino soil again.
A group of Filipino women who were sex slaves for the Imperial Japanese Army during the Second World War expressed fear at their arrival, according to reports.
They point out that their demand for justice for the crimes committed against them remains unsettled, and they also expressed fear that the abuse they suffered could be repeated on the present generation.
Of the estimated 1,000 Filipino women sexually abused as “comfort women” by the Japanese military during World War II, more than 130 of them are still alive and continue to demand an official apology and compensation from the Japanese government.
Richilda Extremadura, executive director of Lila Pilipina, told Kyodo News that while they do appreciate the kindness of Japan for sympathising with the victims of the typhoon, but the former sex slaves do not welcome the presence of the Japanese troops and their ships.
“We are allergic to them. We all know the Japanese government still owes our lolas (ageing sex slaves). As victims of wartime sexual slavery, the lolas find the presence of Japanese troops a threat to their emotions, and to the present generation, who might experience the abuses again,” Extremadura said.
“It’s all the more sensitive for the lolas because Leyte is historical. In fact, many of our members are from Leyte, and (many) have all died without getting justice,” she said.
“Yes, we need medicines and the humanitarian aid of Japan, but are the Japanese soldiers really needed for the rehabilitation?” Extremadura asked. “We might have a different reaction if justice had been given already to the comfort women. Or, we would not have been alarmed if they only sent civilians like members of Jica (Japan International Cooperation Agency).”
The Japanese had a large presence of troops on Leyte during its occupation of the Philippines in the 1940s.