Nearly two dozen elderly Filipino women called Japan's prime minister "a liar" on Tuesday after he said there was no evidence that women were forced into front-line brothels by Japanese troops during World War II.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has angered many in Asia where historians say about 200,000 women were forced into prostitution by Japanese soldiers, claiming last week there was no proof women were coerced.
"We are the living victims and witnesses," said Virginia Villarma, 78. "How can we be prostitutes then when we were so young and innocent ... We are telling Abe that what he said was wrong. He is a liar."
The women, some carrying placards saying, "I was raped. PM Abe Liar!" picketed the Japanese Embassy in Manila along with about 20 relatives and supporters from Lila Pilipina, an organization of wartime sex slaves and women's rights activists.
Philippine Foreign Affairs Undersecretary Franklin Ebdalin urged Tokyo on Monday to adhere to the language and tone of both the 1993 apology made by then-Chief Cabinet Secretary Yohei Kono regarding wartime sexual slavery, and a 2002 letter of apology sent by former Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi to Filipina "comfort women."
Villarma is one of 120 women still alive among 174 who were documented by Lila Pilipina as Filipino "comfort women," the term used to refer to sex slaves provided to Japanese troops, who invaded the Philippines in 1941.
"Abe is denying the obvious," the group's executive director Rechilda Extremadura said in a statement.
Tokyo has generally refused to pay damages to individuals for the war, and says the issue was settled between governments in postwar treaties. Japanese courts have rejected a number of lawsuits brought by former sex slaves, the AP wrote.
A private fund, set up by Japan in 1995 to compensate sex slaves, will expire this month.
More than 80 Filipino women, now mostly in their 80s and impoverished, have accepted money from the fund, but all still seek legislated compensation from the Japanese government.
The choice of the city of Helsinki is not incidental as the capital of Finland had hosted US-Soviet negotiations on the limitation of nuclear stockpiles in 1969