On Fighting Poverty: AFCCUI shows the way

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By Orlan R. Ravanera

Kim's Dream

Wednesday, May 21, 2014


THERE is no question that poverty reduction cannot be had unless the poor and the vulnerable are empowered. Studies by development experts concluded that the poverty of the Filipino people is rooted in their powerlessness to have access and control over their resources and utilities.

Glaring is the fact that the resources, be financial or ecological, are in the stranglehold of a circle of a few elite who controls, who benefits, and who decides. Such truism is reinforced by statistics showing that in 2012, 75 percent of the growth in the GDP was pocketed by only 50 families.

Paradoxically, poverty in this semi-colonial and semi-feudal country looms amidst the richness of nature in a land oozing with ecological resources.

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How do we unfetter the people from the quagmire of poverty and social injustice?

Perhaps, this was the question in the mind of the Mill Hill Missionaries headed by Msgr. Cornelio de Wit, the Bishop of Antique, when they conducted a survey-study in the province of Antique in 1963. The study recommended that the “surest way to uplift the quality of life of the Antiqueños was for them to get organized into cooperatives.”

Thus, it came to pass and wasting no time, the missionaries rolled-up their sleeves and facilitated the formation of cooperatives, first with parishioners and then reverberating through-out the province when the “torch” of cooperativism was passed on to highly committed and dedicated cooperative leaders.

Today, Antique stands tall in the cooperative movement as it has a cooperative in every barangay with members from all walks of life – farmers, fisherfolk, workers, government employees, doctors, teachers, indigenous people, women, the youth, former members of the New People’s Army and especially from the marginalized sectors. With a firm collective intent, they have come together in the cooperative movement as the only countervailing force against the culture of poverty, corruption, apathy, feudal structure and mal-development.

To spread their wings and scale the heights further, these cooperatives had decided to federate in 1970, thus, the Antique Federation of Cooperative Credit Unions, Inc. was formed. That became the spring board toward expansion not only in area but in programs and projects as well.

The Federation now operates in all barangays spread in the 18 municipalities, 14 of which are coastal, one island and three inland municipalities. As the Federation is not only into lending services, it is now known as the Antique Federation of Cooperatives but still maintains the acronym, AFCCUI.

AFCCUI is now gaining headways in its lending program which is one of the core businesses of the Federation with components as follows: Inter-Lending System (ILS), Salary Loan and Micro-Finance. Being an Accredited Training Provider, it is also into Institution Building (IB) Program providing training services to its primary-members.

What is amazing is its Cooperative Enterprise Program (CEP) that operates the AFCCUI Pasalubong Center, the muscovado sugar and other products, the Cooperative Entrepreneurship and Development Center (CEDEC), Hometel and Training Center and the Cooperative Assurance Center (CAC) in partnership with CLIMBS.

AFCCUI shines through in serving their 46 primary cooperatives. It can be aptly described as a beacon of light amidst the darkness of poverty, a radiant of hope to prevail over the onslaught of ecological disasters and unemployment.

Yes, there was a time when the Antiqueños have to find jobs in neighboring provinces (i.e. in Negros) working as Sacadas in sugarcane plantations. Today, less and less Antiqueños are migrating and such has been reduced significantly. Thanks to their cooperatives that generated jobs for them, that taught them entrepreneurial adroitness to start their own micro enterprises. Even NPA combatants have left the armed struggle, finding hope in joining cooperatives which, by nature, nurture and by law, are advancing a counter culture for social change.

Indeed, for those who have dreamed and struggled for it, social change has been elusive all these years, despite 21 years of Martial Law and two people-power revolutions. The structures and systems that breed poverty and corruption are as formidable as ever. Such is Res Ipsa Loquitor as manifested by the horrible misdeeds of vultures who have greedily fed on the flesh of the poor as disclosed by the Napoles Scam. Today, another revolution is in the offing and that is the cooperative revolution.

Yes, I met these revolutionaries when I attended the 46th AFCCUI Annual General Assembly in San Jose, Antique on May 10, 2014 as the Keynote Speaker. They are the new freedom fighters.

They are the new breed of revolutionaries waging war not anymore against external imperial forces but to unfetter the people from the bondage of hunger, poverty, corruption, un-employment, inequities, and social injustice.

This time, the call is not anymore to liberate the people from colonial rule but from oppressive systems and structures that imprison the people from the vicious cycle of economic difficulties. They never use arms; their only weapon is cooperativism whose DNA is members-owned, value-based and sustainability.

They are men and women of integrity whose battle-cry is service and whose dream is to make life better for the struggling people for the greater glory of God.

Foremost of these Cooperative Revolutionaries is no less than the chairman of AFCCUI, Mr. Nick M. Abarientos, a cooperative leader par excellence who, for four decades now, has relentlessly been carrying the “torch” of cooperative development fired by the Mill Hill Missionaries. He was the one who did the back-breaking job of going from one barangay to another, braving the excruciating heat of the sun and the cold rains, traveling on his motorcycle even on week-ends, not minding distance or time, to encourage his co-Antiqueños to form cooperatives.

With the charismatic leadership of Chairman Nick Abarientos, Vice-Chairman Eric Otayde, the dynamic Board of directors and the general manager, Mr. Tomdoly J. Antonio, AFCUUI has put Antique in the cooperative map, showcasing the truest essence of cooperativism, which is both empowering and transformative.

Cooperative leaders in Mindanao must learn from the Antique experience as the province is now increasingly becoming cooperative capital of the country. More than financial, the call is social change where the marginalized sectors are drawn into the mainstream of development processes for inclusive growth, in solidarity for sustainability.

To that empowering path, AFCCUI shows the way! For being intrepid warriors against hunger and poverty, madamo gid nga salamat!

Published in the Sun.Star Cagayan de Oro newspaper on May 21, 2014.

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