Group forwards women's agenda in Duterte presidency

Anjo Bagaoisan, ABS-CBN News

DAVAO CITY - On the heels of vocal assurances that the incoming government of presumptive President Rodrigo Duterte will be more gender-balanced, a group of women is waiting in the wings to make sure that those promises will be fulfilled.

"Our role is to make sure that the new administration is not only gender-sensitive but is also gender-active and will implement what we have presented to the transition committees," said Gabriela Party-list Rep. Luz Ilagan, the most prominent name in the group ForwaRD Women, which stands for the Forum of Women for Action with Rody Duterte.

Some members of the group are from Duterte's bailiwick of Davao City, which boasts of initiatives that protect and support women.

Ilagan was a Davao City councilor before she entered Congress.

Formed in February to support Duterte's presidential bid, ForwaRD Women conducted three consultation meetings with women in Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao to determine a women's agenda that they will present to the new administration.

Duterte himself was present in two of those consultations, where he signed and committed to study the women's agenda.

"If President Duterte's administration wants to work outside the box, then we believe that we are here in order to represent the women, in order to air their views and ensure that the agenda for women will be carried out, because the experience of Davao City is concrete evidence that we can do it," Ilagan told reporters here Friday.

That experience was the collaboration between women's groups and the local government that helped produced Davao City's landmark Ordinance No. 5004 or the Women Development Code in 1997.

The code, which has provisions against sexual harassment and other forms of violence against women and children, is considered the bible of the women's movement in the city. Other women's codes elsewhere in the Philippines have taken after the Davao City ordinance.

Local women are consulted yearly on their problems and proposed solutions. Davao City's mayor is held accountable to respond to these concerns.

"Definitely, Davao City is Exhibit A, especially for gender concerns. This is a procedure that we would like to replicate in other parts of the country because we have benefited from this kind of system and it is important that other women from other local government units should also be made to benefit from this process," Ilagan said.

ForwaRD Women continued to support Duterte despite the criticisms he received over his rape remarks in April, pointing to the mayor's record in working with women and promoting women's rights and welfare.

Members of ForwaRD Women say they witnessed first-hand how Rodrigo Duterte included women's concerns in his executive and legislative agenda as Davao City mayor. Anjo Bagaoisan, ABS-CBN News


ForwaRD Women is also pushing for women to be included in the selection process of the new government and in formulating its policies, starting with Duterte's male-led transition team. The group wants women to be visible in its subcommittees.

"The women may not be visible, but the women are audible. We are going to correct that situation. The perception is that the transition committees have excluded the women. It's not true, but we would like to assert we should have more participation," Ilagan said.

"We are here and we do not want to be sidelined. Aside from being heard, we should also be seen."

(READ: Foes turned allies, old pals help Duterte build new gov't

While none of them personally aims to land a position in the Duterte Cabinet, the group is finishing its own shortlist of candidates who they will recommend to Duterte's selection advisory team.

The undisclosed list also includes men the group believes view societal concerns with gender lens.

ForwaRD Women is hoping though that women would fill a bigger part of the Cabinet and would not just be considered for posts traditionally given to women like social welfare.

"Our concerns cover a lot of areas. We want to emphasize that women should not be considered only for the social aspect of governance. We must also be heard in the economic and in the political, especially environmental concerns that face our people," Ilagan said.

This was also the assurance earlier given by Senator Pia Cayetano, who was introduced last Thursday as part of Duterte's selection advisory team.


The women's electoral agenda formulated from the workshops ForwaRD Women conducted highlight four aspects: economic and social security of women, political leadership and meaningful participation, cultural and legal support mechanisms for women and children, and inclusive peace and security.

The group's socio-economic agenda includes measures to enable women to work while their children are taken care of. They take a cue from Davao City's child-minding centers, where women can leave their children while they are in the workplace.

"If women are not helped in taking care of their children, you cannot expect them to be gainfully or productive in society, economically speaking," said ForwaRD Women's Lourdesita Sobrevega-Chan of the Ateneo de Davao University.

The group also wants the Philippine Commission on Women (PCW) elevated into its own agency rather than as a unit under the President's office.

(READ: Duterte eyes gender-balanced Cabinet, looks for lady leaders)  

In legislation, they are also pushing for the enactment of a Philippine-style Divorce Law that can address and protect women victims of abusive marriages.

They also want to address blind spots in the Reproductive Health (RH) Law, such as climate change, privatization of government health services, and the exclusion of children below 15 in age-appropriate sex education.


Asked to comment about the prospect of a woman occupying the second highest position of the land next to Duterte, Ilagan expressed optimism about Camarines Sur Rep. Leni Robredo, her colleague in the House of Representatives.

"She's very open to women's concerns. In fact, we were together in international conferences which tackled gender issues," Ilagan said. "I am very hopeful that if Cong. Leni becomes the vice president, she would listen to what the women's sector is presenting, and we expect not only because she is a woman will she be responsive, but also because she already has the background."

With the race for the vice presidency too close to call, Ilagan was also asked who she preferred to win between Robredo and Senator Ferdinand "Bongbong" Marcos Jr.

"It is very obvious. We are women and many of us were victims of Martial Law and our women's movement gained strength in the Martial Law years. We keep repeating the mantra 'Never again to Martial Law.' And so it's very obvious that if we are limited to one and the other, there's one that we do not want to come to power," she said.

On Sunday, the camp of Robredo declared that it is "mathematically" impossible for her rival Marcos to overcome her advantage in the partial count of votes.