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Tuesday, March 13, 2012

New rules set for retrieving war remains in Philippines


MANILA — Japan has offered new rules for the retrieval of remains of its soldiers who died in the Philippines during World War II, after a Japanese nongovernmental organization mixed the remains of Filipinos with those of dead Japanese soldiers, leading to a suspension of recovery operations in 2010.

News photo
On the right foot: Proposals are presented in Manila last month on the project to collect the remains of Japanese soldiers killed during World War II. KYODO

The Foreign Affairs Department recently received a three-page proposal from the Japanese Embassy in Manila that will be subject to negotiations with Philippine agencies, particularly, the National Museum and the National Commission on Indigenous People, officials from the two countries said.

"The Memorandum was drafted by the Japanese government in line with the standing suspension of recovery activities by the Philippine government, and the understanding reached by both sides that any resumption shall be contingent on improved guidelines," Foreign Affairs Assistant Secretary Theresa Lazaro said in a letter to the agencies whose comments for the memorandum are being sought.

Out of the more than 500,000 Japanese soldiers believed to have died in the Philippines during World War II, the remains of nearly 370,000 have yet to be recovered.

The search for remains was started by the Japanese government in various parts of the world in 1952.

The nongovernmental organization Kuentai, which carried out a recovery mission in the Philippines from 2009 up to 2010, recovered the bones of more than 14,000 soldiers, but some of the remains were mixed with those of Filipinos.

Allegations of theft of remains from burial places of Philippine tribes in Mindoro Oriental and Ifugao provinces on Luzon, which were then passed off as the remains of Japanese soldiers, prompted the mission's indefinite suspension in October 2010.

The investigation into the mixups has been regarded by Philippine President Benigno Aquino as "inconclusive," although Kuentai has maintained it was taking due care.

Japan's proposed new measures include a submission to the Philippine Foreign Affairs Department of mission plans, indicating destinations and period of visits and lists of visitors for both information-gathering and retrieval of human remains a month before the activities begin.

There will be no payment for any human remains recovered.

The Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry may commission the information-gathering to an NGO, provided that the collection of information does not involve moving any remains, the proposal says.

During actual retrieval, Japan has proposed that staff of the National Museum of the Philippines and Japanese ministry officials with osteological training take part and that the National Commission on Indigenous People be consulted if retrieval operations are in ancestral domain areas.

Forensic anthropological analysis, including using UV light radiation, will be used by experts from both countries to judge human remains on-site.

The proposal also says DNA analysis will be conducted on remains to be brought to Japan.

According to a Japanese official, this will be the first time for Japan to use such scientific tests in retrieval of wartime soldiers' remains.

The proposal suggests any remains found to be those of Japanese soldiers will be issued certifications by representatives and experts from both countries and can then be repatriated to Japan.

Those that cannot be repatriated will be returned to their place of discovery in the Philippines in cooperation with the National Museum, the proposal adds.

Edwin dela Rosa of the National Museum said he finds the proposal acceptable as it apparently seeks to remedy the problems that arose during Kuentai's searches.

But he suggests a specific provision for penalties or other action be included to ensure accountability and liability if any agreed protocol is violated.

An official of the National Commission on Indigenous People said the memorandum should also clearly specify that tribes must give their "free and prior informed consent," as mandated by Philippine law, if their areas will be disturbed.

The Mangyan tribe in Mindoro Oriental has expressed dismay at the negotiations with Japan while issues with Kuentai remain.

The group has been demanding those responsible for the loss of their ancestors' remains from sacred burial sites be held liable.

In an interview in October, President Aquino said he wants the issues involving Kuentai resolved before any retrieval activities resume.

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