Members of a leftist women's rights group, GABRIELA Alliance of Filipino Women, in the Philippines are urging president Rodrigo Duterte to take "a concrete and clear position" over the controversial "comfort women" statue that was unveiled in the capital city of Manila in December.
"The Philippines needs to have a national policy on these women's quest for justice. We lack a concrete and clear policy on this," Joms Salvador, the secretary general of GABRIELA Alliance of Women, told Xinhua News.
The Philippines erected a seven-feet bronze statue in the busy city district of Roxas Boulevard in Manila in December, drawing ire from several human rights groups, including women organizations.
The term "comfort women" refers to the women and girls, who were forced to work in Japanese military brothels before and during World War II, and is commonly seen as a genteelism for describing sex slaves.
Japanese officials have criticised the statue stating that they are disappointed that it was erected.
For his part president, Duterte has said the Japanese government had not asked him to remove the controversial statue and that he cannot remove it because it represents the "constitutional right" right of freedom of expression.
He told Minda News that he "cannot stop the relatives or even the comfort women still living from their freedom to express what they are expressing through the statue."
"That is a constitutional right which I cannot stop. It's prohibitive for me to do that," Duterte said on Friday.
Salvador said Japan should take concrete measures to settle the "comfort women" issue. The country should "officially recognize the horrors of state-sponsored sexual slavery" and apologize to the victims.
"Raising petty issues about statues won't make the issue go away," she said.
Early in December, Manila City Administrator, Ericson Alcovendaz, told the Philippine Star.
"The Japanese officials said that the issue of comfort women is a very big and serious issue in their country, China, and Korea.
"They said they regret that despite the strong ties between the Philippines and Japan, a comfort woman statue has been suddenly erected in Manila," Alcovendaz said.
Manila is a sister city of Yokohama, Japan. The Japanese embassy also informed Alcovendaz, "the sisterhood ties between San Francisco in the U.S. and Osaka were severed because of a comfort woman statue erected on private land," according to the Star.