Violence in the Philippines

The Memories of a Comfort Woman

In this excerpt from "Lola's House: Filipino Women Living with War," Dolores Pasaring Molina describes living through the Japanese occupation of the Philippines including being abducted by Japanese Soldiers to serve as a "comfort woman." Comfort women were women and girls who were forced or coerced into becoming sexual slaves for Japanese soldiers. Comfort women also existed in other Japanese-occupied countries.
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(Courtesy of Northwestern University Press) For more books from this publisher see: https://nupress.northwestern.edu/content/books

Out of all Filipino youth, child and adolescent comfort women had some of the most harrowing experiences. Throughout the occupation, Japanese soldiers often kidnapped and sexually assaulted young women. Dolores Pasaring Molina was only fourteen years old when Japanese soldiers abducted her. She recalls:

“At first I resisted. I struggled with two grown Japanese soldiers. But they only slapped me as they dragged me along the dirt roads. They threw me into a classroom. They hung clothing like curtains to divide seven girls and women. There were three soldiers—an old one, a young man, and the other my mind will not recall… 

I wasn’t awake with the third one. 

Hours later, I woke up and found myself on the tiles of an unwashed bathroom floor, bleeding. Other female victims surrounded me. They soaked old rags in cool water, and they were bathing me. What I remember is the crying. They placed the rag there between my legs to bring the swelling down. Imagine, they just keep coming again and again, just as you are recovering from the previous assault. I think I was there for maybe one month.”[1]

Dolores Molina was highly traumatized by her captivity. After she escaped one month later, she reunited with her mother who did not recognize her. Hugging her mother, she told her “It’s me, your child!” to which her mother responded “You are nothing…I have lost my child. You are nothing.” Dolores explained that her mother had lost her mind after she was abducted, and she never regained her sanity even after the war was over.[2] 

Many young adolescents and their parents were very aware of the sexual assaults of Japanese soldiers, so they discovered ways to combat it. There are several accounts that describe how parents would have their daughters purposely mess up their hair, not bathe, and cover their faces with ash so that they would not appear desirable.[3] Some parents even put their teenage daughters under “house arrest” to protect them.[4] Perhaps one of the most unusual ways Filipino adolescents made themselves undesirable was by smearing chicken blood on their skirts to imitate menstruation.[5]

Japanese and American Bombardment

This photograph depicts a bombed church in the Leyte province of the Philippines. This photograph was taken by Samuel George Ellsworth, who was a USU history professor as well as a president of the University, during his time as a Chaplain in the Philippines during World War II. The caption on the back of the photo reads "The bombed our church at Dulag Leyte"
(Utah State University, Merrill-Cazier Library, Special Collections & Archives, Ellsworth Family photograph collection, P0142, Box 9, Folder 10, Image 3)
In 1945, American forces began to recapture Manilla. They used aerial power and bombardment to try and get the Japanese forces to surrender. This damaged much of the city. Japanese soldiers also pillaged and burned residential areas causing even more destruction.
(Courtesy of Wisconsin-Madison Libraries)

Like Japanese youth, Filipino youth also experienced bombings, which occurred at the very beginning and very end of the occupation. During the Japanese invasion of the Philippines, the Japanese primarily targeted U.S. military centers such as Clark Airfield, which practically destroyed the U.S. Airforce in the Philippines, but they also bombed residential areas causing many Filipinos to evacuate the cities.[6] It was not until 1945 that the Philippines experienced bombings again, this time from the U.S. ‘liberators.’ Marcela Sayo Talusig was eight when the U.S. forces fought Japanese forces for control of Manilla. She recalls that “bombs fell all over the place” and that many of the houses, including her own, burned down.[7] It is not clear if these bombs came from artillery weapons or airplanes, but both occurred. Rogelio David was also eight when he experienced American bombs. He recalls “The Americans were hitting the highways, thinking that’s where the Japanese were, but they didn’t know that it was the civilians they were hitting.” Marcelo also explains that some of the bombs were parachute bombs, which starving Filipinos ran towards thinking they were a box of food.[8] In all of the chaos that ensued at the end of the occupation, U.S. shelling and bombs may have resulted in as much as 40% of Filipino civilian deaths during the Battle of Manilla, illustrating the complicated nature of liberation.[9]  

Shell Shock

This image was collected and digitized by John Tewell. It is also included in the Filipinas Heritage Library. This photo was taken by an American GI in the Philippines, and shows three children who were orphaned during the war. They are sitting amidst the rubble, most caused by Japanese and American fighting.
(Courtesy of John Tewell)

Unsurprisingly, some youth were extremely traumatized by the violence. After Japanese soldiers massacred his family Fernando Vasquez-Prada could not talk for two years. He recounts: 

“One day, I was sitting on the stairs and cried and cried and then talked. But for seven years, a recurring nightmare was of me running down the street into a telephone booth and the Japanese would come in and kill me. When I was seven at La Salle, the year after I started schooling after I could talk again, they held a memorial mass every year on February 12, an open casket at the foot of the altar. The first two years of these annual masses, I fainted.”[10]

Even years after the war many adolescents became shell-shocked by their experiences during the war, some of which plagued them for the rest of their lives. 

[1] Dolores Pasaring Molina, in Lola’s House: Filipino Women Living with War, by M. Evelina Galang, (Evanston, IL: Curbstone Books/Northwestern University Press, 2017), 138.
[2] Galang, Lola’s House, 143. 
[3] Ligaya Mausig, in “Witness,” Under Japanese Rule, 221-222.
[4] Kintanar, Kuwentong Bayan, 185.
[5] Primitiva P. Divina, “Witness,” Under Japanese Rule, 222.
[6] Agoncillo, The Fateful Years, 69
[7] Marcela Sayo Talusig, in “Witness,” Under Japanese Rule, 260.
[8] Joan Orendain, “Children of War,” in Under Japanese Rule, 116.
[9] Nakano Satoshi, “The Death of Manilla in World War II and Postwar Commemoration,” ResearchGate, (August, 2018), 6 accessed November 11, 2018, https://www.researchgate.net/publication/324079142_The_Death_of_Manila_in_World_War_II_and_Postwar_Commemoration.
[10] Joan, Orendain, “Children of War,” in Under Japanese Rule, 127-128.