efe-epaManila

Scores of women in the Philippines continue to fight for an apology or acknowledgement of their suffering when they were forced into sexual slavery during the Japanese occupation of the country in World War II.

Generally known as "comfort women", the victims - many of them minors at the time - were submitted to cruel sexual and labor abuse by Japanese forces that occupied the Philippines between 1942 and 1945.

Estelita Dy, 88, has not forgotten the three weeks in hell she spent locked in a military brothel in her native village Talisay on the Negros Island, during which she was repeatedly raped by Japanese soldiers when she was just 14.

"I tried to fight back when I felt pain. The Japanese got angry, held me by the head and pushed me to the table. When I regained consciousness, the Japanese was gone. A woman told me, next time, not to fight back because you might get killed," Estelita - part of a group of six comfort women still alive - told EFE.

"So every time I was being raped I would just cry and cover my eyes," she said at the headquarters of Lila Pilipina, an organization for the "Lolas", a Tagalog word of affection for grandmothers, which has been fighting to preserve the memory of these women.

Estelita is one of over 200,000 sex slaves which the Japanese empire maintained for its soldiers during their campaigns in the Pacific, Korea, China, Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines. An estimated 1,000 Philippine women ended up in the "comfort stations".

Subjected to forced labor before imprisoned in a military brothel, Estelita said she was lucky to be able to form a family and managed to survive selling rice pastries, and with the support of her husband and five children, who accepted her past and helped her fight for justice and truth.

Not all Lolas had the same luck. Many hid their past for the fear of being despised.

"During the Japanese time, if they knew that you are a Filipino who was with the Japanese, they called you a traitor," Lila Pilipina director Sharon Cabusao-Silva, told EFE.

For decades the issue of comfort women was suppressed in the Philippines, until Rosa Henson - remembered as Lola Rosa now - recorded her testimony in a book, "Comfort Woman: Slave of Destiny", in 1992.

Rosa encouraged other comfort women to come forward.

From its modest office in the Quezon district, Lila Pilipina is fighting to ensure that the stories of these women are not forgotten and they get justice and compensation.

"It's a very difficult struggle for Filipino comfort women because none of the governments past or present have been very supportive," Cabusao-Silva said.

The activist said successive governments have been silent on the issue due to generous investments, loans and aids by Japan - one of the main benefactors of the Philippines. Even a statue paying homage to comfort women was removed from Manila in April due to pressure from Tokyo.

In January 2016, the victims came out on the streets to protest during Japanese Emperor Akihito's Philippines visit.

In 2015, comfort women in South Korea were given "sincere apologies" by Japan and received around $8.5 million in damages after an agreement between Seoul and Tokyo, which was criticized for not seeking the opinion of the victims.

"In the Philippines we don't even have that. Our governments have completely turned their back on us," said Judith Villanueva, the daughter of Lola Virginia, who died in 2015 at the age of 85, without getting the justice she fought for.

By Sara Gomez Armas