Coops – ‘the third way’

Manila Bulletin - - Views • Features - By FLORANGEL ROSARIO BRAID My email, florangel.braid@ gmail.com

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 13,825 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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