“Comfort woman” survivor speaks out for human rights

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Lola Fidencia David was 14 years old when she was captured and raped by Japanese soldiers during the Second World War occupation of The Philippines. As one of the last living survivors of the “comfort women” enslavement, she has travelled the world advocating on behalf of human rights. As part of its commitment to encouraging reflection and dialogue about these important subjects, the CMHR invited Lola and her friend and therapist, Cristina Lope Rosello on a visit to Canada in October 2013. The following briefly recounts her story, in her own words.

Warning: this blog post contains sensitive material that may be disturbing to some readers.

A pannel of 8 persons surrounded by signs saying Never again. Justice for military comfort women. Demanding a world without rape and violence. International Solidarity workers for filipino comfort women.

Lola Fidencia (middle with glasses) at the 1995 UN Women’s Conference in Beijing

I was born in Dasol, Pangasinan in The Philippines on November 1927.  I was an orphan and lived with my paternal grandmother.  My widowed father remarried and his wife was a “wicked stepmother” to us.

As early as December 1941, word had spread that the Japanese had invaded our country. But it was not until the early part of 1942 that we first witnessed helicopters dropping bombs in my province.  My father immediately made a tunnel as hiding place, and he used dried leaves to cover its entrance. After a week, the Japanese came to our barrio on foot. They searched for food. They took fruits and vegetables and also took our chickens with them. Since no one was home (we were all in the tunnel hiding), they burned our house before they left. My father made a makeshift house.

People crossing a river on a wooden bridge

These pictures were taken by a fact-finding committee in 1993.  Japanese lawyers accompanied me back to my barrio where it all happened.

After a week, my grandmother and I went to town to sell vegetables. We planned to use the money for our needs like gas, matches and soap. When we arrived there, we heard someone blow a whistle, but I was overtaken by fear and tried to ignore it. Out of fear, my grandmother deviated from the way and took another direction .  The Japanese were angered. A (Filipino) Japanese collaborator approached and chastised me.

“Why did not not heed the call? Do you want your head cut off?" he said.  Then he slapped me on both cheeks. I cried.  At this point, my grandmother approached me and witnessed how a Japanese soldier got a hunting knife and slashed my ear. Then he made me drink water and poured the rest on my head.

Then they tied our hands at the back and made us join other prisoners in the town plaza. We were exposed to the scorching sun for half a day. In the evening, we were made to go to the garrison.  This used to be the municipal hall, which the Japanese occupied.  

That evening, I was made to enter into a room.  My grandmother was led to another room.  Inside the room where I was taken, a Japanese came, tied my mouth with a cloth and raped me. I resisted but he bumped my head against the wall and I lost consciousness.  After that, there were other Japanese who followed suit.  This happened every night for the 10 nights that I was held there.

When the Japanese returned to my barrio to get more food, they took me and my grandmother along with them. We were supposed to be used as their human shields against the Filipino guerrillas. On the way, we stopped for one night in a house which was also being used by the Japanese. That's where I witnessed that they were also raping my grandmother. I cried, but the Makapili (Japanese collaborator) slapped me.

Upon reaching the barrio, the guerillas sensed that the Japanese soldiers were coming. They shot and killed the leader of the Japanese soldiers.  One of them immediately retaliated by shooting and killing my grandmother. I ran away to hide, but a soldier followed and raped me in the grass.

For a long time after the war, I suffered in silence and could not talk about what happened to me.  I could not get over my fears. Much later in my life, thanks to public recognition of what happened to us – and the help of my therapist, Cristina – I was able to put my deep hatred aside, and began speaking and advocating on behalf of survivors and promoting human rights for women around the world.

Women protesting and holding signs in Japanese.

Lola Fidencia David, surrounded by other “comfort women” and supporters, hold a rally in Japan in 1993 after filing a case in the Japanese District Court for recognition and compensation. The case, launched by 46 women, was ultimately dismissed.

4 persons sitting in a row. Lola Fidencia is in the foreground holding a microphone.

Community event at the Winnipeg Chinese Culture and Community Centre. In the photo (R to L): Lola Fidencia David, Therapist Cristina Lope Rosello, CMHR President and CEO Stuart Murray and WCCCC President Dr. Joseph Du. (Photo Credit: Aaron Cohen / CMHR)

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