Philippine comfort women hold rally as Aquino, Abe meet

Six Filipino comfort women staged a rally Saturday near the gate of the Philippine presidential palace as President Benigno Aquino held a meeting with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.

"Justice for the grandmothers! Shinzo Abe, we are here, proof of the Japanese military's sexual slavery," Virginia Villarma, 84, shouted. "President Aquino, this is your chance. If you truly support us, convey our message to your friend, Shinzo Abe."

Villarma was 14 when Japanese forces housed her and her sister in a garrison in Manila's port area, forcing them to wash soldiers' clothes, cook food and cater to their sexual needs, she said.

"The trauma is immeasurable, and that experience remains fresh in my memory," Villarma, a member of Lila Pilipina (League for Filipino Grandmothers), said.

Villarma said she received financial help from the Asian Women's Fund in 1996 and has heard apologies offered by Japanese officials and people, but, she added that is different from redress by the Japanese government.

Villarma and her five fellow sex slaves backed by family members and a women's rights group said they continue to demand an unequivocal apology and just compensation from the Japanese government.

They also want official acknowledgment of Japanese military sexual slavery in Japan's historical accounts and books about wartime.

"Many of us have died, and many of those still alive like me are already weak and sickly. But we will not give up on our struggle to get justice," she said.

Of an original 174 members in Lila Pilipina, 73 have died, the last one on July 12.

From the Malaya Lolas (Free Grandmothers) group, 55 women have died of 92 original members.

A funeral is set for Saturday for the most recent member of Malaya Lolas to die.

"I am begging for the mercy of both the Philippine and Japanese governments. We suffered so much during the Japanese occupation because aside from raping women in my home place in Pampanga, the soldiers also separated the men and killed them and burned our houses," Isabelita Vinuya, president of Malaya Lolas and a former sex slave, told Kyodo News in a separate interview.

Joms Salvador of the women's rights group Gabriela that also joined the protest expressed fear a new generation of sex slaves may evolve even before the original ones get justice with the planned granting of access to Philippine military facilities for the U.S. and Japanese armed forces.

"We demand justice for the comfort women and we also denounce any expansion of Philippine-Japan-U.S. military cooperation, which will breed the next generation of comfort women," Salvador said.

In Manila, Abe ends his three-day Southeast Asia trip that has also taken him to Malaysia and Singapore.