After almost five years, the project labeled only as “Remains Collection and Identification” will now be able to resume its activities.

In May 2018, then Ƶ chancellor Michael L. Tan initiated the project of collecting and identifying human bones from the National Museum which are believed to be that of Japanese soldiers of World War II. The project is a partnership between the Philippines through the UPD and the Japanese government through its Ministry of Health, Labor, and Welfare (MHLW). The project intended to assist the Japanese government in their efforts to return the remains of their soldiers to their country.

(From left) Vesagas, Koshikawa, and Hayashi. Photo by Jerald DJ. Caranza, UPDIO

The project’s implementation is now ongoing, the latest of which was the UPD Department of Anthropology’s (DAnthro) negotiation with the National Museum and the eventual transfer of about 250 boxes of probable Japanese remains to UPD. These boxed remains came from various locations in the country believed to have been sites where most Japanese soldiers were based during World War II.

The MHLW and Japanese embassy are also closely working with the Department of Foreign Affairs for the repatriation of the remains, and the Department of Interior and Local Government, for the coordination with the towns and cities for the remains collection.

The Japanese (left side) and UPD (right side) representatives during the briefing at Balay Kalinaw. Photo by Jefferson Villacruz, UPDIO

UPD Vice Chancellor for Planning and Development Raquel B. Florendo said under Tan’s guidance, a series of meetings that included planning for a laboratory and storage room began in May 2022.

The UPD Office of the Vice Chancellor for Planning and Development was in charge of the renovation of the rooms in Llamas Hall behind Palma Hall Pavilion 1, which will serve as the project’s storage room and laboratory.

“Thank you very much for giving us a hand in this very important national project. With the support of the Philippine government, we can strategize these very intensive remains collection activities. However, because of COVID-19, this project has been suspended for two to three years. Finally, we can start this very important remains collection,” said Koshikawa Kazuhiko, Japanese ambassador to the Philippines.

Koshikawa (in white barong) pays respects to the remains inside the boxes. Photo by Jerald DJ. Caranza, UPDIO

Koshikawa was in UPD on Nov. 15 for the project briefing with Tan and Florendo.

In response to Koshikawa, Tan said “[W]e recognize the cultural importance of bones in Japan, China, and East Asia. So we are very supportive of this. We also see the value for our programs to be able to host this very special project, together with its historical background. I would just like to take the liberty of saying that UP, being the national university, will be ready to offer advice, to the Japanese team.”

He was apologetic to the Japanese government for the apparent selling of bones by some unscrupulous Filipinos.

Event attendees at the Llamas Hall lobby leading to the laboratory and storage room. Photo by Jerald DJ. Caranza, UPDIO

“I know it’s a bit sensitive but it has to be said. There were a lot of people who took advantage of this project, selling the bones to the Japanese government, and knowing they are not Japanese bones,” Tan said.

The remains laid out on the laboratory tables for examination and identification. Photo by Jerald DJ. Caranza, UPDIO

At the briefing, a draft of the memorandum of agreement (MOA) was handed to Japanese embassy counselor Hori Kazuichiro for evaluation and comments. A date will be set for the signing of the final MOA soon.

Representing the MHLW at the briefing were Project Leader Furukawa Kazuchika, section chief of the Office for the Recovery and Repatriation of the Remains of War Dead and Memorial Services for Ward Social Welfare and War Victims’ Relief Bureau, Bureau Officer Kota Hirano, and anthropology expert Hayashi Atsuko, also of the Bureau. Meanwhile, UPD was represented by UPD College of Social Sciences and Philosophy Dean Ruth R. Lusterio-Rico, DAnthro Chair Felipe P. Jocano Jr., UPD Office of the Campus Architect Director Ringer Manalang, and legal counsel Percival Cortez of the UPD Legal Office. Lab assistants—UPD students helping the Japanese team identify remains—Nikki Vesagas and Marie Louise Antoinette Sioco were also present.

Koshikawa. Photo by Jefferson Villacruz, UPDIO
(From left) Hayashi, Kota, Hori, H.E. Koshikawa, Furukawa, Tan, Florendo, Lusterio-Rico, Jocano, Cortez, and Manalang. Photo by Jefferson Villacruz, UPDIO