THESE words once reverberated in the ’70s: “Let a thousand flowers bloom and a hundred thousand hearts content.” Indeed, the blooming of the flowers may be very beautiful but it pales in comparison to the blooming of the cooperatives as exemplified by the Mindanao Alliance for Self-Help Societies - Southern Philippines Educational Cooperative Center (MASS-SPECC), the most outstanding cooperative federation in the country.
In its forty-five years of existence, it has scaled the heights in making life better for the poor and the vulnerable, drawing those in the margins into the mainstream of development processes.
Indeed, MASS-SPECC has become a beacon of light amidst the darkness of poverty, a concrete manifestation of how great the founders were like the late Atty. Mordino Cua and Acquio Pimentel, the grandfather of Sen. Koko Pimentel. Indeed, what they have dreamt in their solitude is now being echoed by the multitude.
That multitude is the cooperative movement in the Philippines numbering about 17,864 active cooperatives in the country with some 10.4 million members. They are advancing the essence of cooperativism whose DNA is that of being members-owned (no one shall be left behind), value-based (debunking materialism and consumerism for the sublime) and sustainable (giving high adherence to the sacredness of life and that development should not sacrifice the people and mother earth to the altar of greed and profit.)
As clearly stated in the highest law of the land, the 1987 Constitution, “to promote cooperativism as instrument of equity, social justice and economic development,” the cooperatives are correcting gross social inequities and social injustice as these flaws are manifested in the life of the farmers who are tilling the land not their own, or if they owned the land, they do not control the mode of production and marketing.
Look at our farmers, they are the poorest of the poor but they have been liberated from the vicious cycle of poverty through cooperativism.
The more than 2,000 cooperatives of the agrarian reform beneficiaries are now owning the land which were once under the control of the landlords. The peasantry through their cooperatives are now controlling the mode of production and marketing, following value chain approach, by debunking conventional agriculture and now adopting sustainable agriculture practices.
In fact, some of them are into manufacturing of organic fertilizer and pesticides and are unfettered from the many marketing layers.
Don’t you know that a bag of fertilizer bought in Ukraine at P50 per bag was sold before in Mindanao at P1,500 per bag to the detriment of the poor farmers?
Why are the coconut farmers the poorest poor when coconut industry is a billion dollar industry? To rectify such paradox, the coconut famers are now into value chain, processing coconuts into coco-sugar, coco oil or what have you. Many cooperatives of the farmers are not just selling raw but are into processing of their products, i.e., producing cheese and milk, processing root crops like “lutya”, producing chocolates and coffee and what have you.
All of the cooperatives in the country have good stories to tell. We have cooperatives of the persons with disabilities (PWDs).
Visit big malls in the cities and you will see the blind providing massage services, thus, from being liabilities of society, they become assets and productive.
Go to Maguindanao and Marawi. You will meet former combatants of the MNLF now very active in peaceful social transformation, bannering peace through cooperativism. You will hear them shout, “mga pagari akon, sama-sama tayo kooperatiba. Isa lang ang aming armas ngayon – kooperatiba na.”
The young drug victims in the penology of Nueva Vizcaya have been organized by the Cooperative Development Authority in partnership with a billionaire cooperative in Region 2, the Tam-an Banaue MPC as cooperative. The young inmates have been trained to implement projects such as organic farming at the back of prison and other projects to make them productive. Ang dasal po nila ay “patawad po Panginoon at sana mabigyan kami ng bagong buhay.” Well, the cooperatives, just like a good father of the family, are now being mobilized by the Almighty to give them a new life.
But what is amazing is that the 10.4 million members are becoming ecologically conscienticized and are forming a robust movement for collective action for climate change mitigation and adaptation. Many cooperatives are into environmental protection and rehabilitation, doing massive replanting in the uplands of Cagayan de Oro and Bukidnon and some young cooperative members have been mobilized by cooperative leader, Ms. Lydia Tubella, to rehabilitate the impaired mangroves in Cagayan de Oro.
Now we can aptly claim, the cooperatives are concretely standing as one collective force advancing the essence of the United Nation’s battle-cry on the 17 Sustainable Development Goals: “Transformative Cooperatives for People, Planet, Prosperity and Peace.” In the Philippines, this UN theme is trail-blazed by the MASS-SPECC, a feather in the cup of the cooperative movement not only in the Philippines but in the whole world.