Sensitive Content: Some parts of this story allude to instances of sexual and physical violence on the context of war.
“We’re clear to take? Cameras, audio, lights? Great, great. Are you ready, Ma’am?”
“Yes, I’m ready.”
“Please know you are free to stop whenever you want, and you are not required to answer any question you’re not comfortable with. We’re going back to some hard times in your life when you might have felt like you did not have any control. This time you control everything, okay?”
“That’s good to know.”
“State your name and age, please.”
“I am Benilda Munson, ninety years of age.”
“And what happened to you during World War II?”
“I became a comfort woman for the Japanese forces stationed here in the Philippines.”
“Can you tell us your name and age, please?”
“Narcissa Benitez. I am ninety-one. I was a comfort woman.”
“Can you describe what a comfort woman was, Miss Benitez?
“A prostitute. Someone who gave carnal relief to Japanese soldiers during the war.”
“May I ask how you became one?”
“They forced me.”
“And I understand this is the first time you’re revealing all this; not even your own relatives knew what happened eighty years ago?”
“Yes, that is correct.”
“Because I’m about to die, and I still haven’t gotten my apology.”
“State your name and age, please.”
“I am Clarita Cruz. Ninety years young, and still glowingly beautiful.”
“Can you tell me about your life before the war, Miss Cruz?”
“Life was simple before the war, as were most things here in Cebu at that time. My father and two brothers worked as woodcutters. My sister Graciella and I helped maintain the house with our mother. Our town was nested in the middle of three mountains. My mother always said she should have given birth to a donkey and a buffalo to help with hauling wood and moving around to other places. My father always agreed.
"Highlights of our lives back then were the occasional feasts celebrated in the bigger towns, where we’d walk for half a day just to participate. Food overflowed in everyone’s houses at the time, and you were free to enter anyone’s house and eat with them, even if you didn’t know them. We’d always bring woven baskets to carry bags of food back home.
"I always asked why my father and my brothers Sergio and Ramon never thought of harvesting desserts instead of wood. Seemed like a more delicious way to make a living, if you know what I mean."
“How did life look like when the war began, Miss Munson?”
“Newspapers told of the crawl of the Japanese through Guam, Hong Kong, Korea, and Formosa, but life still went on. My father and five brothers worked on the farm, and my mother, two sisters, and I took care of the household. Believing was difficult; life was so normal. How come there was a war? It didn’t look like it.
"But the crawl continued. Soon they landed an army in the north, an army in Mindanao, and an army in the Visayas. They were suddenly at our doorstep, almost like magic.”
“Can you tell us about your first encounter with the Japanese, Miss Benitez?”
“February 1943. I was sixteen. They raised their bayonets against the whole town, made us all line up, and torched our houses.”
“They asked my father how many children he had. He said he had six.”
“Only five of us were at the house, my four brothers and I. My other sister resided in Manila.”
“What happened then?”
“They said he was lying.
“They skinned him alive.”
“You became a guerilla fighter, Miss Cruz?”
“Damn right; my whole family did. We went up the mountains as soon as we heard the Japanese had landed up north. The prettiest one amongst all the mountain fighters, that was me. All strong fellas on that mountaintop, but they had no gorgeous maiden to take care of them; my mother and my sister aside, of course.
"The men fought the Japanese, the women took care of them. They taught me how to clean and stitch wounds in there. I was both the fastest and the worst in the job, but they made do with me. I cooked, did the laundry, did some smuggling here and there as well.”
“How did the Japanese capture you, then?”
“There was this Filipino son-of-a-bitch. Lucas was his name, I will never forget it. He told me he had supplies for laundry bar soaps I could purchase for cheap. When I went to pick it up from his house, two Japanese soldiers were waiting.”
“How did you feel then, being sold out?”
“Oh, I still want to kill that man with my bare hands. I hope he’s still alive. He’d be, what, one hundred and twenty by now if he is? If there’s a man named Lucas living near you that’s a hundred and twenty, give him to me; I’ll send him on his way to meet God up above!”
“What happened after they torched your homes, Miss Munson?”
“Some women they executed on the spot, mostly the old ones. My mother was one of them. The younger ones and all the men had to walk kilometers for three days, with no food and barely any water. My brothers, my father, and I ended up separated in different garrisons in Manila.
"Twenty girls stayed in my barracks, all around my age; I was fifteen at that time. We all stayed in one room, sleeping on the floor. We washed clothes, cooked, and cleaned in the morning. The soldiers took their pick amongst us at night; they came, pointed at one of us, carried the girl to their rooms, and relieved themselves there.”
“Excuse me Miss Munson, but as I understand, Japanese soldiers weren’t supposed to have individual rooms.”
“Yes, I meant they brought their comfort woman to the room they share with the other soldiers. Sometimes other soldiers watched the deed, sometimes they didn’t as they already had a girl of their own. Some nights they’d force us to do the deed in the girls’ very shared room. Sometimes all the girls had to sit and watch.”
“Can you describe to us the living conditions in this barracks you were in, Miss Benitez?”
“It was a chapel and a convent converted into a base. Everything was dirty when we came.
“Where did you stay?”
“The soldiers shared rooms and kept supplies in the convent. Their prisoners stayed at the small church.”
“And I take it you didn’t sleep well inside that church.”
“No. The soldiers forced themselves into the women right there, every night.”
“Where? Inside the church?”
“Yes. Each soldier would choose one corner of the chapel and do it there.”
“They didn’t even move you to their rooms?”
“They didn’t have to. It’s not like we can decline.”
“Where did you end up after the man named Lucas sold you out?”
“Oh, I ended up in a whorehouse for Japanese soldiers. Do you know who owns it? A fucking Filipino! He made a business out of his own countrymen at the time of war. I didn’t get the name of the bastard who operated the whole thing, unfortunately. I hope he’s dead.”
“How were you treated there?”
“Three soldiers every night, sometimes more, sometimes less. Usually rough and abusive, but they had no control over how quickly they finished, so that’s an upside. A few pumps in and poof, done. Very few gave tips, though, those chintzes.
"The brothel manager gave us money every week depending on how many customers we served. Nowhere to spend it on though, since we weren’t allowed to go out of the establishment.”
“How was your health at the time?”
"It was a surprise I didn’t die on the third day. A girl would die once a week or so, from fever or injuries usually. Not much medicine to go around, so we medicated each other with soup. I’m proud of one thing though, about that horrid whorehouse.”
“What was it?”
“No girl ever took her own life away in my five months there.”
“How long did you stay in the barracks, Miss Munson?”
“I honestly don’t remember. Every day was a daze. We had no idea what date it was, what day. We weren’t even allowed to go outside. I could have been there for six months, maybe ten, maybe a year. My mind couldn’t remember, sorry.”
“That’s all right, Ma’am. How did you get out, though?”
“Filipino guerillas overran the barracks. There had always been skirmishes here and there but the Japanese had better guns, and most guerillas only had machetes. But the skirmishes became more frequent and based on the sounds of the fighting, the guerillas got more and more guns, too.
"One night, the sounds of the fighting got closer and closer, and next thing we knew, a Filipino was opening the doors to the girls’ room.”
“How did you feel then?”
“Of the twenty of us taken, only eight survived. There was a little relief when they rescued us; we were already numb at that point.”
“Did the Japanese soldiers’ behavior change, Miss Benitez, the more fighting they had to endure?”
“Yes. Things got worse.”
“They became more brutal to us. They didn’t just relieve their sexual need, they were quenching their need to dominate over someone, too.”
“How bad was it?”
“A girl would die every week from her injuries. She’d usually be replaced by some other girl from some other tiny town.”
“How many of you were taken there?”
“Eight in the beginning, then maybe about twenty or so added over five months.”
“How many got out?”
“Six, myself included.”
“When the establishment fell and Cebu was retaken by Filipinos and Americans, what did you do, Miss Cruz?”
“I scoured the province for my remaining family. The Japanese attacked alleged guerilla hiding grounds a month after I was caught. They captured my mother and Graciella in one such attack, never to be seen again. After moving bases, my father and two brothers were captured in a separate attack and taken to the base in Cebu City, where they worked for sixteen hours a day. Only one brother of mine, Sergio, survived.”
“How was Sergio when you first saw him?”
“I barely recognized him. He aged so much, he looked like Father but much uglier. Since it was just the two of us though, I became the prettiest in the family by default.”
“How did you reconnect with your family, Miss Munson?”
“Only two of my brothers survived; they ended up together in a garrison some ways from mine. They found me right after Americans took over my barracks. They found father’s body beneath the rubble of one destroyed makeshift base near the sea. We tried finding our mother and all the others, but we couldn’t.”
“How hard was it, starting life again after Manila was liberated?”
“I think if you read the history books, you’ll find that the Japanese leveled Manila so they could take it. I could attest to that. We had nothing to go back to, however, so we stayed in the city. Antonio, one of my brothers who survived, found a stable job in construction the first year after the war, and I only found work as a waitress the year after. Rudy never held a job for long because of the bad back he got from working non-stop for the Japanese.”
“When you reunited with your sister living in Manila, you didn’t tell her about what the Japanese did to you?”
“Not the comfort woman part, no. Just that father died and I couldn’t find our four brothers.”
“Why didn’t you tell her?”
“Because I knew her views of me would change.”
“What happened to her during the war, Miss Benitez?”
“She worked as a housemaid for a senator. Those people were practically untouched by the war.”
“She got lucky.”
“Or maybe unlucky, depending on how you look at it.”
“And what did you do after you found her?”
“I became a gardener for the senator she worked for. I hated it.”
“Why did you hate it?”
“Because, multiple times, the senator almost did to me what the Japanese soldiers did in that chapel.”
“Was it hard rebuilding your life with Sergio, Miss Cruz?
“It was harder than hard. We moved to Davao where we stayed with an uncle. Sergio told me first thing to hide the abuse the Japanese committed. I almost slapped that ugly bastard from anger, but I understood: in my family’s eyes I wasn’t pure anymore. Multiple Japanese men desecrated me multiple times. Our conservative Catholic uncle, his dutiful wife, and his preacher son wouldn’t understand.
"But life had to move on. Sergio worked in my uncle’s family business, and I helped my aunt clean the home, do the laundry, cook. I always liked the chopping part before you cook. Makes me think I was chopping up all those Japanese flesh all fine and nice.”
“Did you tell anyone about your experiences as a comfort woman, Miss Munson?”
“Aside from my two brothers, I had boyfriends that I told it to, usually at the point where the relationship was about to get serious. It was such an integral part of who I was that they had to know about it and accept it.”
“How did those confessions go?”
“One guy courted me when I was eighteen, as I was working my way through high school. He felt so betrayed when he found out that he told the story to everyone at my school. Thankfully graduation was near then.
"I told another when I was twenty-one; an office worker from the university I was studying in. He took it well but admitted that he believed the purity of both men and women is important for marriage, and he thought himself pure so his partner should also be.
"Another one was when I was twenty-four, a working guy whom I met during my internship. He outright refused to talk to me after I told him. I took that as a sign that I shouldn’t get my hopes up about finding a husband.”
“You’ve never married, Miss Benitez, despite being ninety-one years of age.”
“No, I didn’t.”
“Was that because of your experience as a comfort woman?”
“There’s always some aspect of the men courting me that’d remind me of those Japanese soldiers.”
“Too aggressive. Speaks too loudly, speaks too fast. And they always became touchy. Always. I hated it when they do that.”
“Have you forgiven those Japanese soldiers who did those things to you?”
“Oh, fuck no. I will never. If I can kill all of them with my bare hands over and over, I’d do it. The things they did affected me for decades. My relatives shunned me when I told them what happened. My own uncle and aunt, my own cousins, imagine! I couldn’t find a husband because the self-righteous, height-deprived men of the Philippine islands couldn’t stand the idea that I had been touched by someone, even if I myself hated what happened to me. But it’s fine; it’s not like they’re all so handsome, anyway.
"What’s worse is they’ve never been sorry for it. I mean, I still wouldn’t forgive them if their government apologized, but I’d just love to see them bend over and over for us. I think all comfort women deserve at least that satisfaction.”
“Up to now, the Japanese government has yet to formally recognize comfort women, Miss Munson, and they have yet to pay official reparations for the damages they have done to you. What can you say to them?”
“It’s amazing how Japan turned itself around since the war, but there were things that they intentionally forgot along the way. They never paid those who experienced distress and abuse at the hands of their men.
"We’re still here, just a handful of powerless old women. Nothing that we do could ever hurt them, so I hope they stop forgetting about us soon.”
“What’s your message to the Japanese government, Miss Benitez?”
“The scars they left were deep, and it still bleeds sometimes. I hope they recognize the women their soldiers mistreated, and I hope they give payment at least to us survivors.”
“Were you in touch with the other comfort women who revealed themselves in public?”
“Yes, but only recently.”
“How many of you still survive?”
“Only eight old women remaining.”
“Do you think you’ll get the apology and the reparations you’ve been calling for before your time comes?”
“What’s your message to the Japanese, Miss Cruz?”
“Stop being cowards and call us what you called us back then. We’re comfort women. Ianfu, that’s the Japanese word for it. When I learned Google that was the first thing I searched for. If I could travel to Japan I’d go around shouting that word over and over until they lock me up.
"I know what they want to happen: for all of us comfort women to die, and for the thorns in Japan’s sides to disappear on their own. They want the world to forget us.
"But I won’t waver. I want that recognition, and I want that payment. I’ll use it to pay for a Japanese escort. Might give me some proper Japanese shagging, since their soldiers clearly weren’t very good at it.”
You must sign up or log in to submit a comment.