In a recent activity where I presented international and national figures related to significance of cooperatives in socio-political development, one participant inquired why do some countries have 70 % to 90% of their total population as cooperative members while the Philippines has 14% only? I was quick to answer that in our observation most Filipinos view cooperatives as “pag-utangan” (credit source) while other nationalities consider cooperative as a way of life. This is on the thought that not all members attach themselves to cooperatives. Often our fellow cooperators consider it as a separate entity. That it can be tapped whenever cooperative services are needed. This means they detach themselves from their own family–their cooperative. Please don’t get me wrong, I don’t mean to judge, just sharing my views for discussion purposes only.
In my stay with the movement since I moved out from the four corners of the classroom as a student, traversing the challenging misty mountains, hills, valley and plains of the Cordillera, rain or shine to be with cooperatives honed my attitude and skills towards this economic enterprise. Meeting people in the remote areas that hike several kilometers to reach the venue creates a feeling of mutuality that completes the essence of participation. It might not be a perfect description of how people value cooperatives in our country but the mere presence of individuals to listen to information, education, campaign; attend trainings/seminars is an attestation that they value their membership in cooperatives. Observations also points to existence of internal problems like unpaid loans or account receivables by the members but this does not affect their involvement in the activities, a trait that can be positive or negative.
For cooperative development workers, the participation of farmers in rural areas especially those with small means in activities can be translated to “lost income” but a gain on social development. Social development requires sacrifice and we owe it to the responsive people especially to the marginalized sector of society who make things happen even at the expense of lost opportunities especially income. To the cooperative development specialists, workers and stakeholders who dare rampaging waters, swirling winds, falling rocks and debris, I salute you for the courage, commitment and perseverance in bringing the needed services closer to the people. I can speak of such hardships of fieldwork as experienced in my stay with different institutions. As a CDA field staff, I nearly lost my life in different locations like Chico River near Tuao in 1999 ( bus sank due to ferry boat capsize); raging waters along the Conner –Kabugao Road in 2000 and big volume of water in one of the creeks of along Lepanto-Cabiten access road that nearly swept me and the motorcycle to the ravines. Thanks for the guidance of the Almighty who provided strength and determination to survive such circumstances. This is not a simple story of cooperative life but the will to provide service to the people even during inclement weather. Believe it or not but God is my witness, it a testimony never been shared to many. Maybe others have more experiences to share and we welcome them to join us in writing.
Further, this situation can be different in the case of some urban areas wherein participation in activities is often associated with monetary rewards. The difficulty of inviting members to attend General Assembly Meetings required some large, medium and small cooperatives to part with some finances. This is to fund tokens or cash incentives for membership participation often charged as member benefit or general assembly expenses in the cooperative book of accounts. Without such incentives, lesser attendance to General Assembly is observed. Agree or disagree?
Furthermore, if we intend to make life more meaningful as Christians and non-Christians, subscribing to the principles of cooperative can make a difference. Generally, in cooperatives we don’t argue so much about religion, race, political leanings, gender, etc. It is in cooperative where people coming from different races and religion meet; male and female are given freedom to serve as officers and staff; and equity and equality exist. Champions of cooperatives often claim that what matters most is the person not his or her money. Choosing cooperative as a way of life and not as a separate activity of our daily life will make us more responsive to community concerns. It might be a herculean obligation and gargantuan task to accomplish for some people but to those who love cooperatives—definitely it is a way of life.
Finally, I commend all the cooperative members, staff and officers for your continuing efforts to advance socio-economic development programs leading to job generation and business growth. To the government line agencies; local government units, media outfits and stakeholders, let us sustain our efforts in bringing positive change through cooperative efforts. Ensuring sustainability of operations will definitely assure democratic reforms that can change our current situation towards productive and God-fearing communities. It is our only hope that can boost socio-economic reforms with minimal government intervention. As a way of life, we remain attached to fellow cooperators that firmly believe in unity and cooperation as foundation of cooperative action.