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The bronze statue honoring comfort women in Manila. [DONG CHENGWEN/XINHUA]

Philippine women"s rights groups have strongly condemned the removal of the comfort woman statue in Manila, calling it "a desecration of Filipino women"s dignity".

The 2.1-meter bronze sculpture, depicting a blindfold, grieving woman in Maria Clara traditional Filipiniana gown and unveiled in December, represents women in the country forced to work as sex slaves in Japanese military brothels during World War II.

"This monument is reminder of the Filipino women who were victims of abuses during the occupation of the Japanese forces from 1942-45. It took a while before they came out into the open to tell their stories," reads the inscription on the monument.

Activists said the statue was quietly removed around 8 pm on Friday, less than five months after it was erected along Roxas Boulevard.

"GABRIELA Alliance of Filipino Women strongly condemns the removal of the comfort woman statue along Roxas Blvd despite opposition from women"s rights advocates, historians and other sectors," said Joms Salvador, GABRIELA secretary-general.

Manila City Hall said the statue will be returned once drainage work is completed, but it gave no time frame for the project.

The statue supposedly serves as a reminder to future generations of Japan"s atrocities and abuses against Filipino women during World War II, and women"s historical victimization in times of wars of aggression, she said.

The erection of the statue has angered Japan. Japan"s Minister for Internal Affairs and Communications Seiko Noda had expressed regret over the construction of the monument in January.

Last year, Osaka terminated its 60-year sister-city ties with San Francisco to protest a statue commemorating Asian sex slaves that was erected by Asian communities.

The issue of comfort women has provided a dilemma for the Philippines" relations with Tokyo, a major provider of aid and financing to Manila.

It"s estimated that at least 200,000 women in their teens across Asia including the Korean Peninsula, China, Indonesia and the Philippines, were forced to work in the wartime military brothels.

Xinhua and AP contributed to this story.