Despite having been dead for nearly two years, “comfort woman” Tomasa Dioso Salinog should remain alive in the nation’s consciousness as a rich source of lessons and inspiration — especially these days.
Salinog was 13 years old and living alone with her father (her mother had died a month after her birth) when Japanese soldiers forcibly entered their home one night in 1942 and took her away. They beheaded her father when he tried to defend her.
She was brought to a house near the Japanese Imperial Army’s garrison on Gobierno Street, and was kept there as a “comfort woman” who had to “service” no less than four men a day. She managed to escape after several months, but was later recaptured by a Colonel Okumura — who kept her in a house and made her a sex slave, occasionally “sharing” her with his friends.
The experience ruined her life. After the war, with no parent left to support her, she could not go back to school and had to work in order to survive. The trauma that accumulated from repeated sexual abuse left her unable to embark on any romantic relationship.
In 1992, radio stations aired a number of announcements urging former “comfort women” to come out with their stories. Salinog was the second to come out, after Maria Rosa Henson. More women emerged after them.
Japanese lawyers interviewed them in preparation for filing a case before a Japanese court. Henson, Salinog, and 16 other former “comfort women” subsequently lodged a case before the Tokyo District Court. The petitioners’ demands included a formal apology from the Japanese government and the inclusion of the “comfort women’s” experience in official Japanese history textbooks.
Henson and Salinog presented their opening disposition at the first oral hearing on Oct. 15, 1993. Said Salinog:
“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, points 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 1995, the Japanese government set up the Asian Women’s Fund (AWF), which collected money from private Japanese citizens and offered lumpsums of $17,000 as “atonement payments” to the former “comfort women”.
Salinog refused the “atonement payment”, saying it could not compensate for all the horrors that she went through.
She was the only Filipino “comfort woman” to refuse the “atonement payment”.
The Japanese Supreme Court dismissed their petition on Dec. 25, 2002.
By this, Salinog was understandably saddened, but not disheartened.
On March 29, 2007, Salinog wrote to then-Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, urging him to acknowledge the accounts of sexual abuse that she and hundreds of other Filipino women suffered at the hands of Japanese soldiers during World War II. She died less than two weeks after writing that letter.
There are those who have crumbled at far less than the horrors Salinog went through. There are those who have jumped at “compensation and moral damages” far less than the amount Salinog refused.
But Salinog was probably made of far sterner stuff. She was violated many times over, but her head remained unbowed to the very end.