THE country’s cooperative movement with over fourteen million members together with the Cooperative Development Authority and all the kindred mourn the death of Judge Esperanza “Inday” F. Garcia who passed away last February 1, 2016.

She was a cooperative leader par excellence who journeyed almost five decades of her 82-year life advancing the essence of cooperativism to make life better for the poor Filipinos.

I am giving this tribute to a fallen cooperative icon whom I would describe as sui generis. Her legacy will remain forever in the heart of every cooperative advocate who dreams of societal transformation to democratize wealth and power in a highly pyramidal social structure. I will now apply that unforgettable line from the movie, The Last Samurai. “Please tell me how she died? No, I will tell you how she lived.”

Every generation is faced with problems inherent in its time and circumstances but there will always be leaders who will stand up to the call to uproot the cause of the problems. This was true the last century when Rizal and Bonifacio rose up to the call by waging struggle against colonialism as our country then had been suffering from long years of oppression and colonial rule. The charisma of these few brave men inspired the many to organize resistance giving birth to a sovereign nation.

The advent of a new age saw our country beset with a new set of problems deeply rooted in the poverty and powerlessness of the people. The challenges we face today may be different from those faced by our ancestors a century ago.

But the guiding formula that relies on the collective strength of the people has remained the same. For in truth, the people united can never be defeated. This was true a century ago when the people collectively fought and dismantled successfully colonial rule.

This is truer even today when the people are organizing and mobilizing as they bind themselves to resist poverty through cooperativism. The new millennium has produced leaders like Judge Inday Garcia who are guided by the same nationalistic feeling, intellectual prowess and courage of the heart. The clarity of their vision and ideas creates the energy to put a dream to reality. As a favorite poet would put it aptly, “they have been a noontide in our midst, and their vision has given us dreams to dream.”

We were fortunate that we had such a personality in our midst who advanced the universally-accepted and time-honored principles to make life better for those in the margins of development.

True to her name, Esperanza, is the hope for the weakened in spirit. The words of Winston Churchill could well describe her cooperative journey as a person “who gave so much for so little.”

She organized with then Justice Francisco Tantuico, a union in 1970 to save the Court of First Instance (CFI) employees from the clutches of usurers. She has exemplified personal traits that have made her a natural born leader to inspire people to unite, build coalition, and take responsibilities for their communities and to craft their own destiny. That credit union is now the Cebu CFI Community Cooperative, and with her all-time guidance has almost 7 billion pesos in assets and 80,000 members nationwide.

She had trailblazed cooperativism in this part of the country based on insights gained from the many legal experiences she had that gave her acclaimed and outstanding awards such as the Best Trial Court Judge in the Philippines from the Chief Justice Andres Narvasa of the Supreme Court of the Philippines.

Those prestigious awards helped her to become a leader in many of the cooperatives she was part of as a chairperson of the Board of Directors, and as a logical conclusion of her sheer determination to practice and banner cooperativism as integral part of the Filipino life.

These cooperatives, be primaries or federations, like VICTO and Cebu CFI Community Cooperative, are now standing tall nationally and internationally as lasting monuments of her almost 50 years of cooperative journey. Thanks to her fighting spirit, undaunted all those years despite the much travail she had encountered.

The cooperative journey which reeled-off years ago was a path then least taken as it meant choosing to live a life that would exact no less than the highest standard of commitment and dedication, notwithstanding a great degree of sacrifice not only to herself but to her beloved husband and children as well.

Such being the case, what then prompted Inday Garcia, an idealistic and multi-awarded lawyer then, to embark and trailblaze a missionary path of service, which was then contrary to the prevailing social norm innate in a capitalistic set-up of individualism and materialism?

There is a saying that goes, “there is no grandeur sight in the world than of a young woman fired with a great purpose, dominated by one unwavering aim. She is bound to win; the world stands to one side and let her pass; it always makes way for the woman with a will in her.”

Indeed, for Inday Garcia, it was a journey inspired by a vision of making life better for the needy, the oppressed and the downtrodden.

Such social analysis stemmed from the highly stratified socio-economic structure where the wealth and power were and still are concentrated in a few elite and where feudal rule seemed to be the order of the day.

Fully aware of these socio-economic problems, she had pursued a development line considered as an anti-dote against the cruel onslaught of poverty. For her, it had become imperative for the people to bind themselves together to craft their own destiny by mobilizing their collective energies and potentials and in effect, establish a new societal order that is founded on the time-honored principles of social justice, equity, popular participation and sustainable development.

That from out of the darkness of poverty and social inequities, a new societal order can loom through cooperativism as a vehicle of social transformation.

All told, her Cooperative Journey is not just a chronicle of important events; most importantly, it speaks of a journey in life, one that belongs to a higher and more sublime realm.

It was a journey that had created a strong societal force, the silent building of the power of the people long before such term became popular at EDSA. It was a travel in search of ideas, approaches and strategies to fine-tune and make more relevant in contemporary times Philippine cooperativism to be a powerful tool to change formidable rigid structures of elitism, materialism and oppression in a highly stratified society.

For a great lady that she truly was, her cooperative journey was in fact a triumph of the human spirit–for the greater glory of God. We in the cooperative movement are awed and amazed by one great cooperative personality whose life had been committed to harness the collective power of the people, yet, had exemplified the power of one. That one woman could make a difference in awakening and unifying the spirit of the people to advance a collectivist counterculture for social change.

Now that she had leaped to the Great Beyond, we can only look up to the stars and reflect that, “From time to time there appear on the face of the earth, men and women of rare and consummate excellence who dazzle us by their virtue, and whose outstanding qualities shed a stupendous light. Like those extraordinary stars of whose origins we are ignorant, and of whose fate, once they have vanished, we know even less, such men and women have neither forebears nor descendants: they are the whole of their race.”

To Judge Inday Garcia, wherever she is, now with us, then with the stars, our firm salute and warm embrace!