At dawn of November 23, 1944, Japanese troops descended on the town of Mapanique, Candaba, Pampanga. To the shock of the local inhabitants, Japanese troops gathered all the men and boys and proceeded to castrate many of them. After which, the men were forced to put their severed sexual organs in their mouths before they were burned to death en masse.
The women and girls, on the other hand, were marched to what is known until today as “Bahay na Pula” (red house) in San Ildenfonso, Bulacan. There, the women and girls were interred and repeatedly raped.
The magnitude of the Japanese cruelty witnessed by the remote town of Mapanique was because the town was known to be hotbed of resistance to Japanese rule. It was in Central Luzon where the guerilla movement, HUKBALAHAP, was formed only months before he siege of Mapanique. One of its most respected leaders was a woman, Commander Dayang Dayang, who was herself a native of Mapanique. This, plus the desperation of the Japanese troops who already knew that they had lost the war, would explain the unparalleled cruelty that accompanied the war crimes committed by the Japanese troops against the civilian population of the town.
Inspired by the revelations of South Korean women who publicly admitted that they were victims of the Japanese comfort women system, about 60 victims of rape and other war crimes from Mapanique formed the group known as Malaya Lola’s, or liberated grandmothers. While primarily an organization of women who were victims of mass rape committed by the Japanese during the infamous siege of Mapanique, it also includes in its roster women folk whose husbands, sons and other male loved ones became victims of Japanese war atrocities.
In 2004, the Malaya Lolas filed suit in the Philippine Supreme Court to compel the Philippine government to espouse, or sponsor their claims for compensation from the Japanese government. Prior to their suit before the Philippine Supreme Court, the Malaya Lolas had their suit for reparations dismissed by Japanese courts on the ground that the women do not have personality to sue under international law. The Japanese courts opined that the Philippine government must sponsor their claims. Hence, the of case Vinuya et. Al. versus Executive Secretary.
The suit was itself novel because it was researched, drafted, prepared and filed by law students who were then enrolled in the first ever course on International Humanitarian Law in the Philippines. In that year, the University of the Philippines Institute of International Legal Studies, an Institute that I once headed, embarked on a training program on the teaching of IHL in Philippine law schools. To practice whet we were then preaching, UP pioneered in the teaching of IHL as a separate course since IHL used to be taught only as part of the general course on Public International Law.
It was in the course of teaching this pioneer class on IHL that the Malaya Lolas requested for us to provide them with a legal remedy after their suit for compensation had been dismissed by the Japanese courts. After some of the Lolas met the students then enrolled in that class, many of whom have become leading authorities in International Law today, such as Diane Desierto of Yale and the International Court of Justice, Neal Silva of the Department of Justice, Raymond Sandoval of the International Criminal Court; the students came out with this cause of action: one, mass rapes against civilian populations have always been subject of a non-derogable prohibition in times of war; two, it is also subject of a duty for all states to investigate, prosecute and punish the perpetrators thereof. Accordingly, and three, the commission of mass rape will not only entail the duty of a state to pay compensation as a consequence of the doing an internationally wrongful act, it is also the basis for individuals to incur individual criminal responsibility.
To counter the position of the Philippine Government that further reparations is barred by a waiver which the Republic signed, the students argued that such waiver is null and void for being contrary to public policy and that the state cannot waive a right that inures to its nationals. The students likened this second argument to the prosecution of the crime of rape. While the state is the offended party in a criminal prosecution for the crime of rape, compensation that would excuse the rapist from incurring criminal responsibility could only come from a pardon made by the private offended party. Here, it is the private offended party that has the power to determine whether or not to accept compensation in exchange for the dropping of a criminal case. There should no difference , the students argued, where the crime is more abominable, such as in the war crime of mass rape.
6 years after the filing of the case of Vinuya, and after 20 of the original petitioners had died, the Philippine Supreme Court unanimously dismissed the Malaya Lola’s petition. In its 33 page decision, the Court said that the claims for compensation are barred because the Philippines entered into the San Francisco Peace Pact where in exchange for nominal war reparations, the government was said to have waived any and further claims for compensation from Japan, a view consistently espoused by the Department of Foreign Affairs. Furthermore, the court ruled that while it commiserates with the sufferings of the women of Mapanique, this, allegedly, is one instance where there is a violation of right but bereft of a legal remedy. The Court also said that while rape is prohibited, there is no non-derogable obligation to investigate, prosecute and punish those who committed mass rape as a war crime. This is the second siege of the women of Mapanique.
In a few hours, read about the third siege of the women from Mapanique, Candaba, Pampanga.