POVERTY dehumanizes. It strips a person of his/her humanity or whatever qualities inherent to one who has been created in the image or likeness of God.

It further alienates a person from his/her nature as a holistic being, reducing work not as a means of developing potentials but to eke out a living just to survive. It is as if the world has become a jungle where the name of the game is the survival of the fittest.

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In the frenzied pace to extricate themselves from the bondage of poverty, a great number of the population has sort of jumped-off from what has been described as a "sinking ship" willing to accept whatever job there is in other countries.

To those who could not qualify abroad, they must contend with the meager income. Always hopeful to change their dismal fate, an increasing number resorts in squeezing some amount to indulge in lotteries. For those who have the stamina for long queuing, they would opt to try their luck on noontime shows. For the desperate? Well, the answer is in the increasing crime rate against properties.

This pitiful scenario should not be allowed to continue any longer for the simple reason that poverty has no place in an ecologically abundant country, especially in resource-rich Mindanao. We must now attack the root cause of poverty which is, the disempowerment and social exclusion of the people.

To debunk the culture of poverty, the people must now harness their collective spirit and their inherent capabilities. If powerlessness is the culprit, then empowerment is the solution.

People empowerment is easier said than done. It behooves the raising of social consciousness on the prevailing socio-economic-political realities and the workings of oppressive structures and why they are such. It calls for an action to defeat the lethal combination of apathy and greed.

Most importantly, it has become imperative to advance a collectivist counter-culture that awakens the people. The time is ripe. People's participation is the condition sine qua non to effect social change. Without people's participation, all the outpourings of development programs will just be palliatives and cannot be the real solution to combat poverty.

That collectivist counter culture is the answer to break monopolies and cartels in a country where only 400 families control the economy. It is the path to unfetter those in the margins to be drawn into the mainstream of development processes. It is the vehicle to erase social exclusion and to replace it with democratic processes to give credence to that constitutional mandate that "sovereignty lies with the people and all powers emanate from them."

That collectivist counter-culture goes by the name of mutual aid societies or simply cooperatives. In its truest sense, cooperativism means social transformation based on the principles of social justice, equity and sustainable development. It relies on the inherent power of the people to craft their own destiny by exercising that God-given right of decision making an exercise of intellect and free-will, qualities that qualify a person as one created in the likeness of God.

Above all, it empowers the people by putting power where it rightfully belongs, which is, to the communities. Indeed, the people united can never be defeated, even by dehumanizing poverty. (cda_cdo@yahoo.com.ph)