WOMEN from various fields and interests declared support for the presidential bid of Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte.

Around 300 women leaders gathered in Davao City Saturday, February 27, to launch the “Forum of Women for Action with Rody Duterte” or ForwarRD Women, a loose movement of women with members who are lawyers, educators, activists, children and women's rights advocates, and non-government organization workers.

Representative Luzviminda Ilagan said the Mindanao-wide assembly was aimed at discussing concerns and drafting a women's agenda and present them to Duterte.

“But first, we must be able to collectively discuss our situation and issues for us to develop an agenda, and we shall challenge our candidate (presidential) to act on this,” Ilagan said.

Ilagan, who is Gabriela Partylist representative, also emphasized the vital role that women will play in the upcoming national elections.

“Women are half of the population and could effectively swing the votes,” she said.

Duterte, who attended the gathering, received the women's agenda and said: "This is easy. I just need money to do these."

The issues presented were women’s limited access to education, unemployment, lack of health services at the barangay level and the review of the Pantawid Pamilya Pilipino Program (4Ps) of the government, “a poverty alleviation strategy that proved to be lopsided and restrictive, pushing Filipino women further to the brink of poverty and helplessness.”

“I assure you that if given the chance to sit in Malacanang, I will stop corruption, get all the resources needed so that the needs of our women will be addressed,” Duterte said.

Inday Sara Duterte-Carpio, who is running for mayor in Davao, was also in attendance. She expressed confidence that her father will make as a priority women's issues once elected.

She noted how Davao City is home to trailblazing policies and programs, such as the Women Development Code and Women’s Health Ordinance that were enacted in 1997 during his father’s administration.

Some of the participants traveled all the way from Zamboanga, Cagayan de Oro, and Caraga Region to attend the launching at the Garden Oasis in Davao.

They cheered when Duterte said, “Basta ako in the next debate, I will just simply ask, ’gutom ba kayo? Dapat bigyan kayo ng pagkain, susuportahan ko ang agriculture. Nakapag-aral ba anak ninyo? Siguraduhin ko na ang mga bata ay mabigyan ng edukasyon’.”

“My top priority will always be education, agriculture and health,” Duterte said. “I will decrease the budget for infrastructure and other items.”

A resource speaker, Professor Mildred Megabio-Estanda, said while some quarters are depicting the Davao City mayor as anti-women, the Ateneo de Davao University-sponsored survey in October 2015 showed that gender sensitivity preference of 86.5 percent is on the top qualities that Dabawenyos desire of a president in terms of political traits.

The issue of violence against women is on top 3 of the issues of women and men alike, survey results showed.

Estanda added that this trend clearly reflects Davao City’s awareness of women's issues and their preference for Duterte as an effective leader who could address gender issues.

Saturday’s gathering was aimed at developing a national women's agenda that will be adopted by Duterte once elected president.

“The women in Mindanao, while recognizing these trailblazing efforts of the City of Davao, believe that these things should not only be replicated nationally, but these programs and legislations should be enhanced and supplemented with more programs and policies,” the women said in a statement.

“We are gathered today not only to show our support but to demand that our Women Agenda be accepted and implemented,” the group added. (PR)