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Mar. 10, 2015 - Updated 04:16 UTC



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Long Search for a Japanese Father

Jun. 14, 2016

The Philippines saw fierce fighting in World War Two that left some people stateless. A non-profit organization is helping people in that situation to obtain Japanese citizenship.

Before the war, about 30,000 Japanese went there in search of work. Most of them were men. A lot of them married local women and had children.

The Japanese army conscripted the men into the fighting. Most of them died. The rest were taken captive by the Allies then forced back to Japan.

Their children were left behind in the Philippines. Only a few have been recognized as Japanese citizens.

"I want to be recognized as Japanese," says Rosendo Abe, a local farmer.

Japanese government officials took part in a meeting on the issue that was held in the Philippines last month for the first time.

More than a million Filipinos died in fighting between Japan and the Allied forces in World War 2.

Many people in the Southeast Asian country formed anti-Japanese guerrilla units. They targeted children who had Japanese fathers. Many of them hid in mountainous areas and have lived there long after the war ended.

So far 3,500 people have come forward to say they are of Japanese descent. But the possibility of discrimination led many of them to destroy their birth certificates or similar documents.

Only 173 people claiming they had a parent from Japan have obtained Japanese citizenship. Many claimants have died.

Norihiro Inomata heads an NPO that keeps track of Japanese war orphans. He has spent years trying to help them gain Japanese citizenship. Rosendo Abe and his sisters lost their father immediately after the war. They couldn't prove they were Japanese. They were considered stateless.

Inomata asked them about their father, in the hope of helping them prove he was Japanese.

Rosendo feared for his life at the end of the war and went to live in the mountains. He still lives without electricity or running water.

The Abes kept using their Japanese family name to help their father find them if he returned.

"I was treated badly just because I had a Japanese name. The people around me looked down on me," Rosendo says.

The Abes couldn’t go to school. They made a living growing fruit on a small plot of reclaimed land. Sometimes they staved off hunger by eating things they found in the street.

"I haven’t done anything but farm since I was a kid," Rosendo says. “I want to buy new seedlings, but I don't have any money."

Rosendo says he's not looking for financial help, and doesn't want to move to Japan. If he gets Japanese citizenship, he and his sisters will be able to travel to Japan, where their father might find them.

"We’ve waited so long to see our father. We want to know why he abandoned us," Rosendo says.

Inomata’s NPO has reunited 17 families in the last 13 years. But his NPO has reached its limits.

The average age of the descendants is now over 80, so it’s difficult to get testimonies.

"Three years ago, she might have been able to speak about her own family, her older sister, her father but now it’s probably too late," Inomata says.

The Japanese government has been aware of war orphans in the Philippines for many years.

But it left field surveys to private organizations. There is no law in Japan requiring aid be given to these war orphans in the Philippines.

Japanese government officials finally decided to do something about the situation in 2015.

About 27,000 people including Japanese descendants and their families signed a petition requesting the government provide them with a fast track to citizenship. The government announced its support.

Staff at the Japanese embassy attended exploratory citizenship hearings for the first time.

The Abes testimony was recorded stating that their father was Japanese, a procedure required for citizenship.

They recalled as many things as they could about him.

"My father used chopsticks to eat. We couldn’t use them, though," Rosendo says.

"I am certain that my father has returned to Japan. I believe that we will be reunited with him if we go to Japan," says Dorina, Rosendo's younger sister.

Rosendo is now 77. He knows there's not much time left to find his father if he's alive.

"We are the children of a Japanese citizen," Rosendo says. "We want to see our father. Please help us."

"We need to gather a certain amount of evidence," says Susumu Tsuda, an official at the Embassy of Japan in the Philippines. "But personally, I really want to help them in every way I possibly can."

"The process of finding someone who was last seen 70 to100 years ago is extremely difficult," Inomata says. "We really need proactive help from the government on this issue."

Similar investigations will be carried out with Japanese officials on the island of Cebu in August and Manila in November.