The Filipino Comfort Women
Christina Lope Yl. Rosello
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DISCONNECT: THE FILIPINO COMFORT WOMEN portrays the inner worlds of elderly women survivors of the Pacific War as they grapple with their psychological and historical disconnection, following the fifty-year postwar silence of sexual enslavement and captivity. Additionally, the book renders the phenomenological-existential approach understandable to the lay reader by presenting what actually unraveled between survivor-and-psychologist in counseling. A unique feature in the approach was the use of their drawings as wedge in bringing these women to speak about the unspeakable. As counseling progressed, it became increasingly evident that what plagued them was a deeper existential crisis which gnawed at their inner `core.’
Victimized at puberty, ego formation was nipped in the bud. When the war ended, they did not have any sense of who they were. They went through the motions of living, stuck in the time bubble where fragments of what had happened to them kept creeping up in their minds and hearts. To stop the unstoppable whirl of events in their psyche, these survivors explored suffering as the punctum saliens of their “existence.” A number was surprised to discover that the inability to form a sense of self inadvertently spared them of the egoic malaise inherent in humanity. It is in the exploration of suffering that the book profoundly reaches out to the reader. After all, one need not be a war victim or a woman to have had experienced suffering in their lives.
By presenting the trauma stories of Filipino women, the book also brings to light the hapless plight of noncombatants by virtue of their being women. As their stories point, they were abducted, captured and enslaved to humiliate fathers and brothers who had gone to fight in the war. While these survivors came to be known as “comfort women,” the term unjustly obliterates the uniqueness of their victimization. They were captured upon the invasion of the Philippines which was then an enclave of the United States. The term “Comfort Women” is derived from the compound word “Jugun Ianfu” which literally means “following soldiers in the battle field” where women provide comfort after a battle-weary day. As anthropologist C. S. Soh (2008) explained, the term applies to the experience of Korean women who were colonial subjects at the time of war and were thus, confronted with the colonial duty to serve the colonizing power.
The distinction of the Filipino experience is crucial in the ongoing controversy surrounding the Comfort Women. Japanese nationalists point out that, stripped of the hysteria it generated, the Comfort Women were paid prostitutes during the war. But this, clearly, is not the case with the Filipino women. While the book does not expound on this debate, it tackles the Filipino experience within the ambit of neo-colonialism and patriarchy, hence providing the reader with a broader context upon which they can better understand the survivors’ plight. Denied by the Court of Law of the redress they so long for, the book serves as an alternative for their stories to be heard. Lessons from their wartime tales are envisaged to stir younger generations to be ever vigilant against similar atrocities in the future.