ONE strong Cooperative Movement nation-wide. This is the battle-cry of the more than 23,600 co-ops nationwide with some 13 million members as declared during the national convergence of the billionaire and top millionaire cooperatives held recently in Puerto Princesa City, Palawan.

With a firm collective intent, the participating co-op leaders expressed that divisiveness, competition and apathy are fiction to the cooperatives whose strength lies on solidarity, cooperation and societal concern and whose identity relates to social justice, equity, sustainability and social transformation for people, planet, prosperity and peace.

It has dawned upon the cooperatives that social change has been elusive all these years despite 14 years of Martial Law and two people-powered revolutions. Yes, there were “changing of the guards,” but the structures that perpetuate poverty, social injustice and gross inequities are as formidable as ever. Poverty has become second skin to 50 percent of our people while a few elite, fronted by cartels, conglomerates and monopolies, tightens its stranglehold of the economy.

It is their observation, as stated in their declaration, that vested interest and corruption reign supreme despite the sincere efforts for reform while the vast majority is left sharing the shrinking pie. They are puzzled no end why 70 percent of the Gross Domestic Products in 2012 was pocketed by only 50 families.

They said that they are now conscienticized on how the business elite works with the political elite which shamelessly gives credence to the dictum that economic power begets political power and vice versa, preserving their gains and hold of the country’s economy and wealth.

They are now conscious of the truism that the dominant development paradigm, anchored on the neo-liberal capitalism based on the individual pursuit for self-aggrandizement and wealth that follows a growth-at-all-cost strategy, where money is used to make more money instead of being used to enhance the well-being of the people and the environment, is not economically and ecologically sustainable. That economic system was only successful in sacrificing Mother Earth and the people to the altar of greed and profit.

It is their fear that in the absence of a major change, the global system will collapse in less than one hundred years as the earth’s tipping point has already been reached as manifested by the increasing warming of the earth, the rising of the seas, the extinction of species and that ecological disasters are becoming the “new normal.”

Mindful of the International Cooperative Alliance’s Blueprint for a Cooperative Decade to address the “growing social unrest, economic stagnation, gross inequities, resource depletion and the insecurity of the future generations in meeting their basic needs,” it has become imperative to participate in the strategic agenda to position the cooperatives as “builders of sustainability.”

They have declared in one collective voice that for the cooperatives to survive the Asian Economic Community by 2015 where there will be free flowing of products, services, capital and skilled labor, they must now effect paradigm shifts where the cooperatives harness their collective potentials, where the marginalized sectors are drawn into the mainstream of development processes, where the people have access and control over their resources and utilities and where wealth and power are democratized not just in the hands of some 300 families in the country.

The cooperatives are serving notice to one and all that they have awakened, that they will not allow anymore the culture of poverty, corruption, inequity and powerlessness to continue. To that, they are launching a collectivist counter culture through a strong cooperative movement.

They are now creating a united front as a leading edge in social transformation. Now a potent development force, the number one agenda is to promote and advance Social Solidarity Economy through cooperativism which is the people’s preferred economic model, where the people and the environment are the priorities rather than business and profit.

With one collective voice, the cooperatives are now debunking gross inequities in this ecologically rich but poverty-stricken country and to intensively promote Inclusive Growth.

They concluded in their Manifesto-Declaration that “indeed, the road ahead will be long and tedious, the climb will be steep but we carry deep in our hearts a strong abiding faith that we will get there because the cooperatives are the beacon of light amidst the darkness of poverty as its DNA is members-owned, value-based and sustainable. Where we are now is of no moment, where we are going is what is important.”