Empowering the marginalized

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CDA marks 28th year of catalyzing equal opportunities within the sector

THE Philippines would be able to sustain its inclusive economic growth in the coming years, according to business experts, whose optimism was boosted by foreign investors recognizing the country as a top investment destination. Yet a little more than a quarter of the country’s 100 million people remain poor, based on estimates by the NEDA, or National Economic Development Authority, and half of them live in extreme poverty.

This marginalization seems to negate the economic prosperity that the Philippines has achieved supposedly, owing partly to its labor advantage that entices foreign investors. Poverty also continues to hit small workers in the countryside, such as farmers and fisherfolk, who have become the most vulnerable among the country’s labor forces.

Change through co-ops
After many decades of working together toward the emergence of safer and more productive rural communities, Filipinos from the marginalized sector had found a new agent of change—cooperatives—that promotes mutual responsibility and self-help. Cooperatives aim to improve the quality of life of their members through social, economic, and cultural endeavors. While they draw strength from their members, cooperatives also need the government’s support in order for them to run and expand their programs and projects.


The birth of CDA
Through the years, cooperatives have harnessed potentials of their members from simply helping them improve their communities. Sensitive to the nurturing mission of cooperatives, the government created the Cooperative Development Authority (CDA) and designated it to grow the sector.

CDA Chairman Orlando Ravanera

Orlando Ravanera, chairman of the state-run CDA, said in an interview with The Manila Times that cooperatives have become an integral part of advancing economical and social equity in the country. Noting the Philippines currently has thousands of legitimate cooperatives engaged in various economic and social activities, he added, “After 28 years, we now have 27,000 cooperatives with some 14 million members.”

He also noted that majority of the members of cooperatives consists of small depositors, small farmers, fisherfolk, and market vendors, as well as MSMEs, or micro, small and medium entrepreneurs, which are regarded as the backbone of the Philippine economy. Thus, he said, improving the situation of the members could benefit the country, as they become more effective in supplying goods that the whole population demands. “The CDA has the biggest critical mass, the biggest movement in the Philippines is the cooperative,” Ravanera added.

The CDA, meanwhile, continues to seek adequate support from the government as it moves to call attention to the sector’s potentials. “We have to enhance the capabilities of the cooperatives with regard to their entrepreneurial abilities and technical know-how,” Ravanera said. He described cooperatives as institutions that are controlled, managed, and patronized by their members, who could compete more effectively in the market if they received proper education and training. “When you say ‘social transformation’ or restructuring, that means erasing social injustices through the power of the people, and that can only be done through cooperatives,” he added.

Giving credit to cooperatives for improving the country’s economy through food production and the advancement of agrarian reforms, Ravanera said cooperatives have also helped their members maximize benefits from their collective labor. “The fishermen, for instance, because of their cooperatives, were able to rehabilitate their impaired marine ecosystem and protect their base,” he pointed out.

Various benefits
Cooperatives registered with the CDA are entitled to various benefits such as exemption from value-added tax, as well as national, city, provincial, municipal and barangay (village) taxes, among other privileges.

Other privileges bestowed by the law on cooperatives include preferential rights to supply government institutions and the agencies some agricultural commodities produced by their members, and the equitable allocation of commercial shipping vessels for the movement of goods produced by cooperatives. Cooperatives are also entitled to loan and credit lines, among other benefits, from certain financial institutions. But still, Ravanera said, the cooperatives sector lacks monetary and technical support from government.

In the meantime, the CDA runs a technical assistance program to strengthen the human resources of cooperatives and ensure that members understand their group’s principles. “We teach them the value chain and, as a result, they generate employment,” Ravanera said. “We may be tax-exempt, but we are tax makers by being job generators.”

Citing the LGUs for helping to make cooperatives more effective, Ravanera said, “There is coordination with institutions that are equally mandated by law to promote cooperatives. The Local Government Code also states the LGUs should also advance cooperatives in their respective jurisdictions.” He stressed that bigger government agencies, such as the Department of Agriculture (DA), the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI), and the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) implement some of their programs in rural areas with the help of cooperatives.

“For instance, the DA, DTI, and DAR believe that it is only through cooperatives that they can implement their programs successfully,” Ravanera said. “I can say agrarian reforms are two sides of the same coin. Both are social justice measures. We have united because all should be involved.” He noted it has become easier for people to join cooperatives of their choice, since it only requires filling out a membership form and a shared capital.

Plans
Expressing confidence that the number of cooperatives nationwide would continue to grow, Ravanera said, “It is my analysis that in the next five years, the number of cooperative members in the Philippines will increase to 28 million.” Cooperatives are present in 87 percent of villages in the country, honoring regular and associate members. Also, these cooperatives continue to encourage the marginalized Filipinos regain their dignity and realize the value of commitment, he said. “Those who are in the margins of development could be included in the mainstream development process through cooperatives, to liberate themselves from poverty,” Ravanera added.

The CDA will put up its own radio and television programs to expand its reach to the masses, whom it hopes to familiarize with the real role and capacity of cooperatives in the country. Ravanera said, “After 28 years, we will see the change … their [cooperatives’] capacity to produce, and their entrepreneurial capability.”

PHOTO BY ROGER RANADA

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