Thursday, May 10, 2007

Lola Masing, comfort woman

Tomasa Dioso Salinog of San Jose, Antique, one of the many World War II so-called comfort women in Asia who suffered sexual abuse under the Japanese Imperial Army, died of multiple organ failure last April 6. She was 78.

I met Lola Masing at the International Military War Crimes Tribunal held in Tokyo in 2000. Lola Masing led a dozen former comfort women from Philippines and joined dozens from several Asian countries (China, Taiwan, Malaysia, Indonesia, East Timor, South Korea, among them) who bravely testified. A Dutch woman victim and a contrite former Japanese soldier also told their stories.

I remember that gathering to be a heart-rending occasion. Aging women went up the stage to testify, sometimes weeping, fainting, while old footage, photos and documents on the atrocities were being flashed to serve as backdrop. Some women from China who managed to attend were victims of the infamous “Rape of Nanking”, a well documented historical tragedy.

Lola Masing was only 13 in 1942 when Japanese soldiers broke into their house and took her away. The soldiers beheaded her father when he tried to save his only daughter.

“For two years,” Lola Masing narrated in her March 2007 letter to Japanese Prime Minister ABe, “I was kept as a slave to be raped and abused by Japanese soldiers. They took away the only member of my family. Alone, in abject poverty and with no one to take care of me, I could not go back to school and had to work in order to survive. The war and sexual slavery had destroyed my life and my future…

“Despite my poverty and poor health, I rejected the Asian Women’s Fund. The atonement being offered…could not compensate for the violation of my rights as a woman and the grievous crimes that were committed against me. The government of Japan should be accountable for its responsibility for what the Japanese military did…

“I am appealing to you, Prime Minister Abe, to acknowledge the truths we have told. This is the justice I have been longing and praying for. We are aware of Japan’s efforts for peace but there can be no peace in this world unless there is justice. I hope justice will come before I die.”

Lola Masing remembered being brought to a house near the garrison on Gobierno St. where she was raped and abused. The garrison was under the 170th Battalion, 4th Company of the Independent Infantry Regiment. After several months in captivity, the young Tomasa managed to escape. But in 1943, she was recaptured by a Col. Okumura who brought her to a house where she remained as a comfort woman and all-around worker. Okumura and his friends would take turns abusing her.

Lola Masing’s ordeals were similar to those of Lola Rosa Henson of Pampanga, the first comfort woman to emerge from the shadows and tell her story.

In Nov. 1992 Lola Masing also emerged to tell her story. More women followed suit. In 1993, Japanese lawyers interviewed Lola Masing in Antique so that a petition could be filed in a Japanese court. With 17 other Filipino survivors, a case was filed at the Tokyo District court. On Oct. 15, 1993, Lola Masing and Lola Rosa presented their opening disposition at the first oral hearing. Her statement:

“I decided to file a lawsuit because I know this is one way to obtain justice for the wrong done to me by the Japanese Imperial Army. My testimony as well as that of other comfort women point to the fact that a war crime of rape and sexual slavery had been committed against us.

“As a surviving victim of war, I can only offer my experience to serve as a lesson for all governments and the international community that wars bring only violence, and women become the most violated human beings in times of war.

“I demand from the Japanese government to fulfill its legal responsibility, sincerely apologize and grant compensation to all victims of sexual slavery. Justice cannot be fully served unless the Japanese government faces its responsibility.”

In 1996, Lola Masing joined the “Victims Reject-Stop the Asian Women’s Fund Assembly”. This was to stress that the Japanese government should not escape its responsibility by channeling the compensation through a non-government group.

Japan’s Supreme Court dismissed the women’s petition on Dec. 25, 2002. Lola Masing went to Tokyo in 2005 to speak at the opening of the Women’s Active Museum in Tokyo.

There were Japanese individuals who came to Lola Masing’s aid and take care of her needs. Among them was Fr. Paul Kazuyoshi Okura, head of the Catholic Archdiocesan Committee for Justice and Peace. A modest house was built for Lola Masing in Antique so she could grow old with dignity. Fr. Okura’s father was a Japanese soldier who fought in the Philippines and later took his own life.

Fr. Okura’s moving tribute: “Lola Masing was drawn up to heaven on Good Friday (2 p.m. in the Philippines, 3 p.m. in Tokyo), on the day (and time) Jesus Christ offered his life as savior of mankind. I would like to honor the memory of Lola Masing in prayer for forgiveness for the gravest crime Japan has committed.

“I place my heart into praying that Lola Masing be united with Tatsue Takashima (the lovely Japanese woman who chaired the support network and visited Antique several times) and everyone who had passed away before her, so that she will become one thousand winds from San Jose and fly above us.”

The Antique provincial government’s museum recently included Lola Masing’s life in its opening exhibit, said Susan Macabuag, a women’s advocate who had been taking care of Lola Masing’s needs.

You could read the essay I wrote on the comfort women in volume 7 (page 110) of the 10-volume “Kasaysayan: The Story of the Filipino People”. Here, the long-denied ignominous chapter was first written into history.