Palace hands off over comfort women statue
Malacanang distanced itself Thursday on whether the controversial statue depicting the Filipino comfort women during World War II should be removed in Manila.
This was after Japanese Minister of Internal Affairs and Communications Seiko Noda expressed Tokyo's disappointment over the erection of the statue along Roxas Boulevard during her courtesy call on President Rodrigo Duterte last Tuesday in Malacanang.
"We didn't erect the statue. So, it's not a presidential project so to speak," he said.
"(I)t's up to the people who erected that statue to do anything they want with it," Roque said when asked of the national government's policy towards the seven-foot bronze marker.
The spokesman again refused to comment specifically about the raising of Japanese regrets and Duterte's reply during Noda's courtesy call.
"As I said, there's a press statement issued. Not everything that goes on close doors, bilateral talks can be reported upon or commented upon," Roque said.
In the press release issued by the Presidential News Desk last Tuesday, it did not mention what were discussed during the meeting. It just stated that Noda paid a courtesy call on Duterte and those who were present in the meeting.
In a forum earlier in the day in Quezon City, Gabriella Women's party-list Representative Arlene Brosas urged Duterte not to follow his predecessors who did not act on the cause of the aging Filipino women who became sex slaves by the Japanese soldiers during WW2.
She said the President "should stand in behalf of the Filipino people."
Gabriela Secretary General Joms Salvador challenged Roque, a former lawyer for Malaya Lolas, a group of former Filipino comfort women, to issue "positive remarks" that the statue will not be removed.
But Roque said, "I'm a presidential spokesperson now. My past involvements have become irrelevant."
Despite the controversy over the statue, Roque expressed belief that this will not strain the "strong" bilateral relations of the two countries.
"I don't think it is really a diplomatic issue because our ties with Japan remains strong. We have every reason to be optimistic that bilateral relations with Japan would become even stronger," he said.
During his first visit to the Philippines under the Duterte administration early last year, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe promised to extend assistance to Manila of up to one trillion yen for 5-year period.
According to Salvador, from around 200 former comfort women belonging to Lila Pilipina, another group of former Japanese sex slaves, there are about 20 who are still alive and "less than five of them" could still walk.
The former comfort women have continued to seek justice from Japan through its issuance of public apology, formal recognition of what had happened, and reparation. Celerina Monte/DMS