Saturday, May 5, 2007

Summary of Circumstances of My Sufferings: Prescilla Bartonico

Lola Precsilla Bartonico was born on January 6, 1926 on the island of Leyte, Philippines. Here is an excerpt from Lola Prescilla’s testimony to the Japanese government:

One day in the late months of 1943 when I was about 17 years old, the Japanese soldiers captured us as we were hiding in one of the air raid shelters. We were only two women in that group who were all my relatives. They started raping my cousin while the other soldiers tied up the men. I was about 17 years old then. Then they tied me and one soldier raped me. I wanted to resist but I was too afraid to for fear of getting killed. After, they brought us to the town of Burauen and I was brought to the elementary school which they converted into garrison. We arrive in there late afternoon. I saw around 15 women who were also raped like what they did to me. After that, I was brought to the Home Economics Building and saw two women inside.

Then my suffering started at the hands of the Japanese soldiers. We were being raped night and day even in front of other people. Sometimes, they even bring us to the guard posts where they kept their machine guns in trenches made up of sacks filled with soil and placed on top of each other.

I was forced to stay in that garrison for three months. I was being raped by five to eight soldiers mostly during nighttime because we were forced to work in the landing field during the day.

When I met Lola Precsilla, she was the dancer, the one who was always smiling. To look at her, you would not be able to see the sorrow and the history of her life during WW2. She hid that so well. She taught me and the girls to tango. She painted brightly lit paintings of flowers and gardens. She was a healer who could place her hands on our bellies and foreheads and wish the pain away.

One day, each of the six Filipina Americans of the Dalaga Project interviewed one lola. We heard her story and then we all participated in the drama. In the drama of their abduction, the lola played the part of the Japanese soldier and the Filipina American dalagas played the part of the girl being abducted.

I got to interview Lola Precsilla. By that time, she and I were pretty close. She always smiled at me. She always held my hand. But as she told me her story that day, there was a tear set in her eye, glistening like a little memory of light, resisting the urge to roll down her beautiful cheek. She whispered to me, You understand? And I nodded and when it was our turn to perform the drama, I stood up and stepped into her shoes and the story took over my whole body. I felt it running through me as I watched the cousin being raped, as I lay down for the soldiers, as I rolled on the cement floor conjuring up the pain of that memory.

Lola Precsilla raised a family and kept her secret to herself for many years. I suppose that is how she got so good at pretending -- at smiling and dancing as if she didn’t have a care in the world. She had years of practice, acting like everything was just fine. When she finally stepped forward to fight for her apology, to reclaim her dignity, it was to the dismay of her husband and children. Her truth damaged their relationships in ways she had always feared.

Here is a portrait of her younger self. And a photo I took of her before one of her paintings. I was saddened to hear of her passing a year ago last April.

I won't forget how that story took over my body, how breathing was difficult, how I sighed without thinking, how I cried out, how the tear dancing in Lola's eye washed over me, came pouring out of me.

Wednesday, May 2, 2007

FIL AM Communities Respond: 121 Coalition Grows

Above is a photo of Lola Pilar Frias and her apo. I know she and her grandchildren would thank you personally if they could.

Thank you for the quick responses. Below are several Filipino American communities who have recently joined 121 Coalition. Several other groups are meeting to discuss the possibilities. For now, I thank you all for your consideration.

Advocates for Children and Elders (ACE - International Philippines)
GABRIELA Network, San Francisco Bay Area
National Alliance to Nurture the Aged and the Youth (N.A.N.A.Y. Inc.)
The Battling Bastards of Bataan
University of Miami’s Filipino Student Association

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I strongly urge you to support & pass HR121-1H. Please do NOT let our Filipina lolas die without their dignity restored! WWII Comfort Women is ANOTHER injustice we suffered. Our soldiers fought side-by-side U.S. troops, the Philippines provided the U.S. military prime positioning to be able to fight & win against the Japanese. Toxic waste was left on former U.S. military bases in the Philippines. Worst of all, Filipinos of WWII are dying without the benefits & honor they rightfully deserve.

JoAnn Fields
National Youth & Region X Chairperson
National Federation of Filipino American Associations (NaFFAA)

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I have signed the petition and encourage fellow Fil-Ams to offer their support. Together, we can make a difference, not only for those who came before us, but for those who will follow long after we are gone.

Best wishes,
Henry C. Manayan, Esq.
Mayor, City of Milpitas, California, 1996-2002

Support from New Zealand

Here’s a beautiful letter I received from New Zealand. Hand-written on white blue-lined paper, drawn with great care. I have, as they asked, included their names to the online petition.

We the undersigned hereby wish to declare our support for the Comfort Women who were violated by the Japanese during World War II.

Having been in a Prisoner of War Camp with my family whereby my mother and brother died in terrible circumstances, my family and I fully support the above mentioned petition.


1. Mrs. C.E.B. Batcherler-Van De Mey
2. J.F. Batcheler
3. L.M. Batchler
4. P.J. Batcheler
5. O.R. Dhari
6. E. Beder, Secretary-Auckland, Justice of the Peace for New Zealand

Sunday, April 29, 2007

An Invitation to the Filipino American Community At Large

To the Filipino American Community at Large:

Thank you to everyone who has been helping with the campaign to support House Res 121. We’re nearly at 2000 international signatures.

Soon, we hope that Lantos will take the House Res to the floor for a full vote.

A lot can happen in the next month.

I have been working with Annabel Park and 121 Coalition, a national grassroots coalition mobilizing for the passage of House Resolution 121 introduced by Congressman Mike Honda. The resolution calls upon Japan to apologize to the victims of "comfort stations." There are nearly 200 civic groups in our membership. We are campaigning for people to write to their Representative in Congress to co-sponsor the resolution. We currently have 102 co-sponsors. We are aiming for 120.

Currently, I am the only Filipina American working with 121 Coalition.

I really need community support.

We need the Filipino American community to push this issue into high gear — and not too soon for so many of the lolas have already died.

We need the FIL AM community especially in Northern Cali to step up and write LANTOS and PELOSI. Daly City is in Lantos’ district. These two congress people are key and they need to have constituents bombarding their email — they need Fil AM email.

I am writing to ask the Filipino American community at large to mobilize and to help me in several ways.

We need your organizations and alumna societies to join 121 Coalition. If you go to 121 Coalition's website you will see dozens of Korean American Collectives and Organizations. We need to mobilize the Filipino American community in order to make it clear this is not just a Korean American issue.

Of the 200,000 women and girls abducted 1000 of them were Filipina and only 173 of them have come forward. That means your lola may be holding onto a painful and (to her) shameful experience. So we need FIL AM representation to demonstrate that this is our issue too, our lolas’ issues and our WW2 generation’s especially. If we want to represent the lolas, we’ve got to be a presence in the coalition.

What organizations who join the coalition can do to help:

1. Please send me the names of groups with contact information and leadership. I will personally call these groups to get them invested. Email me at

2. Educate your members and sign the petition:

3. Write a letter to your state’s representative and ask him/her to co-sponsor House Res 121 on your group’s behalf.

4. Offer donations and contributions to sponsor a lola on the Hill and to place national ads in national papers or an ad in your local newspaper.

5. Lend your organization’s name to 121 Coalition to give FIL AM presence to the movement and to support the Lolas.

6. Fundraisers and events to raise awareness. Your organization can sponsor a local event to educate the FIL AM community in your city. You can host a lecture or reading. At the University of Miami, Amnesty International held a DIE IN and during that event students read testimonies of surviving Filipina Comfort Women and tabled simultaneously. In two hours they got nearly one hundred signatures added to the online petition.

Please spread the word and encourage your community to write to your congress person and to sign the petition. I invite you to join the coalition with me. Perhaps you can be a contact for your city. I am so grateful for the help many of you have already extended, and I can use your help to educate the FIL Am community at large by email blasts, phone calls, articles, spoken word events.

NOTE: When your community has a lot of people writing your congress person and you share that with the coalition, let them know and they will send a representative to that Congressperson’s office to speak directly to him or her on your community’s behalf. So write your congressperson!

Finally, though we want to represent the lolas in the struggle for justice, this is a fight for Human Rights. This is a statement about what is and is not acceptable behavior to women all around the world. But we need the FIL AM community to come forward and let the rest of the world understand, we respect our elders and these elders are currently being lost in the media shuffle. Much of the country is under the impression that Comfort Women were Korean women ... They don’t realize all the other nationalities that were also abducted and abused. Many nationalities suffered this war crime.

The Lolas are getting lost in the media shuffle because the Korean Comfort Women are so present and they are present because their community is backing them up. Well, I’m sure that once our community is aware, we can support the lolas too. We work best when we’re working together. Let’s work together.

Perhaps bringing the FIL AM Vet supporters together with 121 Coalition will build the kind of community wide support among Asian Americans to get measures past for our elders who have suffered and served during WW2. It's time to take care of the lolas, lolos, manongs and manangs.

Thanks and if you have any great ideas or ways of offering your talent and time, I welcome you to join me.

Maraming salamat, po. I look forward to hearing from you.

M. Evelina Galang