A women's group asked the Philippine president on Thursday to oppose any request by Japan to remove a newly erected statue honoring women who were forced to work in Japanese military brothels during World War II.
The Gabriela women's group said President Rodrigo Duterte should instead demand an official apology and compensation for Filipino women who were "conscripted by the Japanese Imperial Army to serve as wartime sex slaves."
Japanese minister for internal affairs and communications Seiko Noda expressed regret over the construction of the monument in a meeting Tuesday with Duterte in Manila, a Japanese diplomat said, adding that she did not mention any specific request. The diplomat didn't have authority to brief reporters on the issue and spoke on condition of anonymity.
The monument on Manila Bay, unveiled last month, features a bronze statue of a blindfolded Filipina wearing a traditional gown.
A National Historical Commission marker says the monument memorializes Filipinas who suffered abuses during the Japanese occupation of the Philippines from 1942 to 1945. It was built with donations from Chinese-Filipino groups and individuals.
"If Japan really wants this issue to be settled and help us all move on and forward, it should officially recognize the horrors of state-sponsored sexual slavery and apologize to the victims," Gabriela secretary-general Joms Salvador said. "Raising petty issues about statues won't make this issue go away."
Duterte has nurtured blossoming relations with Japan and its leader, Shinzo Abe. The emotional issue provides a dilemma for the government's ties with Tokyo, a major provider of aid and financing to the Philippines.
Historians say 20,000 to 200,000 women from across Asia, many of them Koreans, were forced to provide sex to Japan's front-line soldiers. Japanese nationalists contend that the so-called "comfort women" in wartime brothels were voluntary prostitutes, not sex slaves, and that Japan has been unfairly criticized for a practice they say is common in any country at war.
In 1995, Japan provided through a private fund 2 million yen ($18,000) each to about 280 women in the Philippines, Taiwan and South Korea, and funded nursing homes and medical assistance for Indonesian and former Dutch sex slaves.
Many women in South Korea and the Philippines have demanded a full apology accompanied by official government compensation.
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