TODAY, some 1,600 cooperatives in Northern Mindanao with some 700,000 members are joining hands to culminate the celebration of 2013 Cooperative Month as they give notice to one and all that they have awakened and that they will not allow anymore poverty to reign in this bountiful and beautiful but broken island of Mindanao.

By their very existence, the cooperatives are debunking a flawed development paradigm that allows a privileged few to use democracy to serve special interest groups at the expense of the people and the environment. They are vehemently condemning an elitist system that uses power, like vultures, feeding upon the flesh of the poor, the downtrodden and the oppressed as exemplified by the Napoles scandal. If indeed the named legislators have shamelessly pocketed billions at the expense of the people in whose name and for whose cause they are in government for, then those who are giving highest credence to time honored and universally-accepted cooperative democratic principles must now advance an alternative development paradigm.

This time, it should be one that draws the marginalized sectors into the mainstream of development process anchored on the principles of social and solidarity economy that banners inclusive growth, one that responds to everyone’s needs but not to a few’s greed, and a development that is in harmony with nature and not at its own expense.

Well, achieving inclusive growth is easier said than done in a country that blindly pursues a growth at-all-cost strategy, based on the tenets of a neo-liberal economic system with cartels, monopolies and conglomerates reigning. There is however a light at the end of the tunnel, so to speak. That light is no less than the President’s Social Contract with the Filipino people that has 5 priority areas.

Foremost is the priority area on empowering the poor and the vulnerable to reduce poverty. This strategy directly hits the root cause of poverty which is the powerlessness of the people to have access and control over their resources. The only remedial measure is to empower the people to craft their own destiny. This means collectively binding themselves together, pool their resources and harness their collective experiences and capabilities. That is what cooperativism is all about.

His Excellency’s priority area on transparency, good governance, anti- corruption and accountability jibes well with those of the cooperative principles where the general membership is on top of the organizational structure, all major matters are for the collective members to decide. Those priority areas on rule of law and lasting peace and on mitigating climate change and advance ecological integrity are now being advanced by the cooperatives. How?

Well, on lasting peace, the cooperatives are advancing peace by uprooting the causes of war. By nature, nurture and by law, cooperatives’ raizon d’ etre is for social justice, equity and sustainable development. In fact, here in region 10, the cooperatives have laid down the path to peace. Thus, when there was this call to rise up in arms saying that some 60,000 combatants with high powered guns are ready for war, the cooperatives have declared that in Mindanao there are some 5 million cooperative members ready for peace because peace can only be had not through the fire-power of guns but by the strength of the human spirit in harmony and cooperation, collectively advancing social justice.

It is so interesting to note that the cooperatives now are exemplifying the 7th cooperative principle which is the Concern for the Community that includes securing ecological integrity. The cooperatives have joined SULOG, an environmental coalition, to stop illegal mining and illegal logging. As they work to stop the hemorrhage of the ecological systems, they are also healing the blighted land back to life through mangrove rehabilitation and tree planting.

By advancing the above cited Priority Areas of His Excellency, the cooperatives are indeed PAVING THE WAY FOR INCLUSIVE GROWTH, the theme of this year’s Cooperative Month Celebration. Join Us.