Coops – ‘the third way’

Published November 10, 2018, 12:05 AM

by Charissa Luci-Atienza & Bernie Cahiles-Magkilat



Dr. Florangel Rosario Braid
Dr. Florangel Rosario Braid

The cooperative movement in the country  dates back 136  years ago when Jose Rizal established the first cooperative in Dapitan.  While it is recognized as the “third sector” of our economy for its having assisted millions of poor farmers and workers,  as well as grown and survived all these years, it failed to  create the desired impact in terms of contribution to economic development.Some  of them eventually succumbed to “ningas cogon,” and faded away, the fate of many a small enterprise. Except for a few billionaire coops, most of the 28,000 coops today belong to the small and micro category. The sector consists primarily of multipurpose and credit enterprises with some 14 million members, 379,000 employees, and with total assets of P3,825 billion.

Today, with the recognition of the destructive effects of capitalism as shown by the growing social and income gaps, the challenge of seeking a viable alternative to corporate capitalism and socialism presents itself.

Dr. Eulogio Castillo, current Cooperative Development Authority administrator and retired professor and director of UPLB’s Agricultural Credit and Cooperative Institute, has written a number of articles on the state of cooperatives in the country. In one paper, he cites urgent agenda on cooperatives development, among others, the need to institutionalize a financing system for priority programs that include education and training, enterprise development, data and information management, research, infrastructure development, and the establishment of partnerships with other enterprises. The lack of systematic cooperatives development program has resulted in uneven development, he noted.

Democratizing wealth and power and transforming the highly skewed social order and unbridled consumerism,  could also be the biggest challenge for cooperatives, he added. Other imperatives are the empowerment of our people and the prevention of the massive exploitation of natural resources. To date, we have already lost 17 million hectares of forest land and 10 of the 13 major bays. He blames these social and economic ills on the existing “disjointed system” of delivery of government service and assistance. The more important targets, the small and micro which comprise 90% of the total number of enterprises and which  generate income and employment, are often neglected, he said.

The establishment of a Cooperative College in partnership with state and private colleges and universities that would provide formal and nonformal education as well as conduct research is another innovation which he believes may be worth pursuing.

In a publication, “The Cooperative Society: The Next Stage of Human History,” by E.G. Nadeau and Luc Nadeau, the authors share similar perceptions, stating  that cooperatives will play an important role in creating a better future.  “Humans, they note, may be on the threshold of a new historical stage, one characterized by cooperation, democracy, equitable distribution of resources, and sustainable relationship withnature.”  They cite these observations on the progress that we have made along these indicators – having enough food to feed our species;  living longer lives and having better access to healthcare; fewer people living in extreme poverty; about half of us live in democracies; level of conflict is near its lowest level in 5,000 years; and finally, availability of  tools to stabilize our climate if we are willing to commit to use them for the common good.

If we failed to achieve our objectives, it is not because cooperatives do not have a culture fit. In fact, we have a cooperative culture as shown by our “bayanihan”  spirit. But, as some of us who have monitored activities of cooperatives in various  communities have observed, attitudes and behaviors that show our lack of understanding of the principles of cooperativism – democratic participation, trust, sharing, transparency, and accountability,  have surfaced time and again. This is perhaps the best argument in setting up a Cooperative College for training professional cooperative managers.  The principles of cooperativism could also be incorporated in our basic education curricula as shown in schools of countries like Denmark and  other European countries.

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