STRESSING the need to develop a person’s full potential since its people are a country’s most important resource, a government agency that regulates the cooperatives sector is bent on effecting social change through peace and prosperity and in accordance with the core principle of sustainable development.
“Cooperatives put people at the center of development processes where money is used not to make more money but enhance the well-being of the poor, the oppressed, and downtrodden—exactly the mandate of President [Rodrigo] Duterte,” Orlando Ravanera, chairman of the Cooperative Development Authority (CDA), says.
On its 27th anniversary on March 10, he adds, CDA sees itself again to be under the Office of the President, and as up to the task of being a “transformational” agency advocating a “paradigm shift” toward social change. It had, for a while, been transferred to the Department of Finance, but was brought back into the Office of the President as mandated by Duterte’s Executive Order No. 1.
Created only on March 10, 1990 even when cooperativism was introduced in the country some 100 years earlier, CDA is tasked to promote the viability and growth of cooperatives as instruments of equity, social justice, and economic development pursuant to Section 15, Article XII, of the 1987 Philippine Constitution.
“After a hundred years of cooperativism in the Philippines, we are now ready to face the next 100 years, underscoring that, all along, the cooperatives have been advancing a brand of cooperativism that is embodied in the recent issuance of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals,” Ravanera says.
CDA is also mandated to focus its resources on the micro and small members that represent over 80 percent of the country’s registered cooperatives. CDA says a cooperative is a business or organization owned and operated by the people who work there and use its services.
And whereas they had been known only as institutions that provided credit and grant loans to members for providential and productive purposes, Ravanera stresses, now cooperatives have been proven to be a catalyst of change.
“Through transformative cooperatives, we have to democratize wealth and power through legal and peaceful means,” Ravanera says in an interview. “Cooperatives are not just ordinary people’s movement for change, they put power where it rightfully belongs—that is, with the people.”
He adds that with 26,599 registered cooperatives nationwide, CDA has about 14 million individual members, contributing a withholding tax amounting to P6.4 billion. He also says that 69 percent of the total cooperatives are offering financial services to their members. Also, of the total number of cooperatives, 72 percent are present in the 1,172 out of the 1,634 cities and municipalities in the Philippines.
Members of these cooperatives come from all walks of life—farmers, fisherfolk, women, workers, indigenous peoples, small vendors, people with disabilities, the homeless, drivers, the poor and vulnerable, and even former combatants of the Muslim secessionist group MNLF or Moro National Liberation Front.
“Through cooperatives, all the sectors are now advancing their inherent rights as citizens of this country and as responsible members of the community of the world,” Ravanera explains. “Harnessing the people’s collective potentials and capacities has become imperative and must now take precedence over all other priorities.”
He says CDA spearheaded 13 cooperative cluster congresses that served as venues for members to air their grievances, needs, and concerns—and where cooperatives and local and national officials have participated in. From each congress, a call to action was passed as an appeal for government offices to draft, create, and implement policies to support cooperatives.
The cluster congresses also gave way to the crafting of a CDA Roadmap (see sidebar) geared toward empowering the poor and the vulnerable, with an aim to reducing poverty; rapid, inclusive, and sustained economic growth; just and lasting peace and the rule of law; transparent, accountable, and participatory governance; and integrity of the environment and climate change adaptation and mitigation.
Saying that “Mother Earth is in severe pain,” Ravanera encourages cooperatives to help address ecological disasters through various programs on environmental protection. He says that from having 17 million hectares of dipterocarp (tall hardwood tropical trees) forest 100 years ago, for instance, the country has barely half a million hectares left now.
“We are now on the 17th year of the 21st-century, but we are not certain anymore if we can reach the 22nd-century,” he adds. “Our country has already lost its ecological integrity and, with it, goes our ecological security.”
Peace, on the other hand, has remained elusive all these years, Ravanera says, bringing about “negative peace,” where there is no actual combatant but conflict and violence could erupt at anytime. “In response to this, cooperatives are now working to erase ‘negative peace.’”
Cooperative – autonomous and duly registered associated of persons, with a common bond or interest, who have voluntarily joined together to achieve their social, economic, and cultural needs and aspirations by making equitable contributions to the capital required, patronizing their products and services and accepting a fair share of risks and benefits of the undertaking in accordance with the universally accepted principles.