ON MARCH 10, 2018, the Cooperative Development Authority turns 28 years old, having been created by virtue of Republic Act 6939 in 1990 in pursuance of the constitutional provision “to create an office that shall promote the viability of cooperatives as instruments of equity, social justice and economic development.”
Such is a gargantuan task in a highly skewed pyramidal societal order “where a few elite have much too much and the many who are poor have much too little,” to quote the former Chair of CDA, Secretary Obet Pagdanganan.
What was in the mindset then of Chair Obet was the socio-economic experts description of Philippine society as one characterized by the control of the elite and the oligarchs, prodding us to reflect on who really profits? Who decides? Who controls? the economy.
It has been said then after 14 years of martial then at the time that the 1987 Constitution created the office that the only hope is to dismantle the structure that perpetuate the root cause of endemic poverty and social injustice and that is, through the empowerment of the vulnerable sectors to take control of the resources and to chart their own destiny through social enterprises called cooperatives.
Indeed, after all these years, the cooperatives have gained momentum, becoming transformative and liberating social force.
Yes, they come from all walks of life -- the farmers, fisherfolk, women, workers, Indigenous People, small vendors, the handicapped, the homeless, drivers, reformed combatants and even former victims of drugs -- all believe that cooperativism is the answer against the onslaught of hunger and poverty, that is why they have collectively harnessed their collective energies, potentials and experiences for social transformation.
They have pooled whatever meager resources they have, ardently believing that the “people united, can never be defeated.”
So, where are the cooperatives now in the people’s struggle to craft their own destiny, to effect a paradigm shift from a neo-liberal paradigm that is only successful in sacrificing the people and the environment to the altar of greed and profit to one that is liberating and sustainable?
There are now more than 27,000 cooperatives throughout the nation, with some 14 million members who are exemplifying to the highest degree the time-honored and universally-accepted cooperative principles, whose DNA is that of being members-owned, value-based and sustainable.
Yes, being members-owned, no one shall be left behind; it is always prosperity for all.
Being value-based, money is not used to make more money but to advance quality of life, unfettered from unbridled materialism and consumerism but one that advances the meaning of life through enhanced spirituality.
Being sustainable, cooperatives are becoming a countervailing force against unsustainability in ecology (manifested through global warming, melting of the iceberg, rising of the oceans, extinction of biodiversity, etc.) and the unsustainability in the economy (manifested by some 80 billionaires whose consolidated wealth equal the combined assets of some 3.6 billion people on earth.)
The spirit of cooperativism shines through amid the darkness of poverty and ecological degradation especially in a country that is ecologically fragile and becoming a target of violent extremism. In a country with some 6,000 workers who are going abroad every day to find jobs, cooperatives have generated directly more than half a million jobs and have indirectly created some two million jobs.
In the spirit of “paglilingkod” at “pagmamahal,” the cooperatives have proven themselves to be the countervailing force against violent extremism, empowering the marginalized sectors to be drawn into the mainstream of development especially in resource-rich Mindanao where poverty is rooted not in the lack of resources but in the powerlessness of the people to have access and control over their resources. Social injustices and gross inequities are now being debunked as these are the fertile grounds where violent extremism sprouts.
Every cooperative has a good story to tell. Yes, the blooming of the flowers may be very beautiful but it pales in comparison to the blooming of the cooperatives.