"WHEN you know who you are, when your mission is clear and you burn with the inner fire of unbreakable will, no cold can touch your heart; no deluge can dampen your purpose."
These words by Chief Seattle can aptly be said in describing the newly-elected Vice Governor of Nueva Vizcaya, a cooperative leader par excellence, a young man with a determined will, an inner fire and a compassionate healing heart -- everyone will give way as he passes by.
When I met Mr. Jose D. Tomas Sr. three years ago as the chief executive officer of Tam-an Banaue Multi-Purpose Cooperative, his name has already reverberated throughout the land. And why not? His management adroitness has catapulted the cooperative to greater heights, becoming the first billionaire cooperative in Region 2 with assets reaching 1.9 billion pesos and employing 485 regular employees with some 161,000 members.
When the cooperative was organized in 1991, it started with just capitalization of P25,000 and with just 25 incorporators. That it has grown by leaps and bounds is not only phenomenal but so amazing. What readily comes to one's mind is that saying that "a strong army can conquer a kingdom but the strongest army in the world cannot stop an idea whose time has come. Cooperativism is indeed that "idea" whose time has come, spearheaded by a leader who took up that idea, make that idea his life -- think of it, dream of it, live in that idea. Let the muscles, nerves, every part of the body, be full of that idea, and just leave every idea alone. That is his way to success. But what is important is that every time he will impart that idea, anchored on the universal values of decency, equity and compassion, he will always shout as a conclusion: "God is good" and the audience will readily answer, "all the time."
Let us dwell briefly of the backdrop of that leader. He is a son of a poor family, born on January 6, 1958 at Anao, Ifugao. Buy poverty had no match against his firm determination to finish schooling, even working as a houseboy until he finished his secondary education in 1972. Then he worked as a carpenter, afterwards, as a waiter, a bartender until he became a beverage supervisor at the Banaue Hotel.
He did work with so much industry and commitment but with a keen analytical mind wondering why only a few has much too much while the many who are poor have much too little. How is it that the richest one percent of people in the world have more money that the rest of the world combined?
It has dawned upon the rising transformative leader then that the vicious cycle of poverty can be rectified through cooperativism. They were once the masters of the land that no one owned because private ownership in not in their language, founded on the strong belief that no one can own land which outlast him. Indeed, for thousands of years, they had lived abundantly in a land oozing with ecological resources in the spirit of sharing and service to one another. Then came the colonizers bringing their version of flawed lifestyle that is founded on material pursuit of instant wealth and everything were not the same again.
Isn't it that his ancestors had lived in abundance using the land in the spirit of sharing and service, even bringing forth through collective efforts the 8th wonder of the world, the amazing Rice Terraces.
When the people's collective power is mobilized, not only the amazing Rice Terraces will be the outcome but the liberation of the people from the quagmire of poverty. Indeed, the root cause of poverty is not the lack of resources as the Philippines is the richest in the world in terms of mega diversity but the powerlessness of the people to have access and control over their resources which is fast slipping through their fingers. Who Controls? Who Decides? Who Benefits? This time, those in the margins must be drawn into the mainstream of development processes and that can only be done by harnessing their collective power through cooperativism. That is the fire in his spirit and the healing compassion of his heart.
Thus, anchored on the universal values of decency, equity and compassion, he organized the Tam-an Banaue Multi-Purpose Cooperative, a multi-awardee cooperative being the largest cooperative in the Province and best in membership growth and expansion, that has liberated hundreds of thousands of poor people from the quagmire of poverty. What is amazing is that the cooperative has exemplified to the highest degree the essence and DNA of cooperativism which is members-owned (indeed, no one shall be left behind), value-based (giving importance to the sublime rather than the mundane) and sustainable (economic progress must respect social inclusion and the integrity of the environment).
In 2017, he was elected as the president of the Rotary Club of Vizcaya and at the same time the Chairperson of Ifugao Federation of Development Cooperatives (Fedeco).
He actively supports the programs and activities of the government agencies such as bloodletting program of the Philippine Red Cross, annual tree planting, cash donations, gift giving program, giving of relief goods, brigade eskwela, tent for the TODA's, computer sets and other equipment to be used by the agencies to serve the needs of the communities.
He is the new freedom fighter, waging a war not anymore against external forces but fighting to unfetter the poor from the bondage of hunger and poverty. Poverty, the number one enemy of the country, doesn't only strip a person of his humanity, it imprisons him to a life of hunger and ignorance. As former US Secretary of State Henry Kissenger would aptly put it, "you deprive one of his right to food and you control his mind."
We may not be concerned so much with freedom OF; it is our freedom FROM poverty, hunger and ignorance that Mr. Jose D. Tomas, Sr. has been advocating for, not just as a cooperative leader but as the newly elected Vice Governor of Nueva Vizcaya. To the new freedom fighter, our firm salute and warm embrace. "Indeed, God is good, all the time." Congratulations!