It is an established truism that our country is oozing with ecological wealth especially in resource-rich Mindanao based on the study of Dr. Kent Carpenter of the United Nations’ Food & Agricultural Organization (UN-FAO). In that Study, the Philippines is the richest with regards to biodiversity.  Don’t you know that in the 5,000-hectare forest ecosystem of Mt. Kitanglad, the number of flora and fauna is far greater compared to those found in the one billion-hectare continent of North America? Mr. Larry Heaney, an environmentalist from California, USA, did conduct a study there sometime in the 80’s and was so amazed to observe monkey-eating eagles flying above while the smallest monkeys in the world called Tarsiers are jumping from one branch to another.  There could be no wonderful sites on earth than the blooming of nature, manifesting the magnificence of the invisible and formless Supreme Force Being called God! The urban centers are the opposites as such are the manifestation of egoic and diabolic mind.

But the wealth of the country is not just confined above the ground; beneath are some 72 kinds of minerals, i.e., gold, silver, bronze, copper, iron, silicon and so on including black sands. No doubt, that “paradise” on earth doesn’t stop at the shorelines. The Philippine Archipelago is even more amazing as it has been described by the UN-FAO as “the center of the center of marine life on earth.”

Amidst plenty lies so much poverty – a glaring paradox especially in the “land of the brave and the free” – Mindanao. Based on the Study of the United Nations Development Program (UNDP), of the 25 poorest provinces in the country, 14 are in Mindanao as the poor in Mindanao are the poorest. While it is called the “food basket” of the country, yet according to Food and Nutrition Institute, it is where you find the high degree of malnutrition among the children (28% malnourished, 27% underweight, and 30% stunted).

What a glaring paradox in a land showcasing some 200,000 hectares of plantations with high value crops that are supplying the consumerist lifestyle of the people in the North while we cannot even supply the country’s basic staples such as rice and milk.

Development experts and social scientists are puzzled no end. It is their conclusion that the root cause of poverty is not the lack of resources but the POWERLESSNESS of the people to have access and control over these resources which as fast slipping through their fingers.

We must now reflect on these painful realities by asking three basic questions: OF THE COUNTRIES WEALTH, WHO CONTROLS? WHO DECIDES? WHO BENEFITS?

Social transformation is now the call of the times.  Indeed, for those who have dreamt, struggled, sacrificed and even died for it, social change has been so elusive all these years despite 14 years of martial law and two-people powered revolutions.  The structures and systems that perpetuate social injustice and poverty are still as formidable as ever. However, under the present dispensation, change is now in the offing as it’s the mindset of the present leadership to empower the poor and the vulnerable to rectify the dysfunctions of the present economic paradigm.

Poverty is indeed rooted in the powerlessness of the people and as our counter measure, they must be empowered to the drawn into the mainstream of development processes.  Empowering the poor and the vulnerable makes it imperative to harness their collective power through cooperativism! This is true in the life of the peasantry who has been producing food but their dining tables fall short of it as they are tilling the land not their own, or if they own the land, they do not control the mode of production and marketing.  The more than 2,000 cooperatives of the agrarian reform beneficiaries do own the land now as agrarian reform and cooperativism are two sides of the same coin – both are social justice measures.  Through their respective cooperatives, the poor farmers have shifted from conventional to sustainable agriculture and are now into value-change operations, aptly claiming control over the mode of production and marketing, unfettered from usurers and compradors.

To rectify the greatest social injustice committed against the eleven (11) million member-consumer-owners of so-called Electric Cooperatives, this critical mass of some 55 million Filipinos are now being conscienticized as no less than the Supreme Court had ruled in the 2003 that the ECs are not cooperatives even if they used “cooperative” as a nomenclature, a criminal offense then as provided for in RA 6938 (Cooperative Code of the Philippines).  But such was deleted in RA 9520.  Even that provision that says that the CDA is the sole registering agency of all types of cooperatives is now nowhere to be found in the law that is geared towards strengthening CDA.  Is the unseen hand of the Cartel at play?  Are you an EC and you want to cooperativize? Beware, the case of DANECO speaks well for itself as nine advocates had already been murdered as additional two have just been killed recently.

No problem as time heals all wounds which will be rectified by Cooperativism! This is a truism that is now reverberating not only in the Philippines but through-out the world. No less than the United Nations has seen the imperative of debunking the present economic paradigm that is only successful in benefitting only one percent of the world’s population.  In fact, the combined wealth of eight richest families in the United States totals the combined assets of 3.6 billion people on earth.  While 821 million people are hungry, the United States has produced a kind of cake that is worth $72,000.

Amidst these paradoxical realities looms the UN 17 Sustainable Development Goals – i.e., stop hunger, stop poverty, stop gross inequities, stop social injustices, protect the eco-systems, promote peace, etc. We are happy to note that all of these SDGs are lumped into one theme which is “Transformative Cooperatives for People, Planet, Prosperity and Peace!”

From that of being a “paradise” on earth oozing with ecological wealth a century ago as 70% of the total land area was forested, the Philippines can now be described as the “Lost Eden!”  Of the 17 million hectares of dipterocarp forests that was home to mega-diversity as one tree alone could house then some 130 species of flora and fauna, only 7% of the natural forest remains. Indeed, where have all our forest gone? Gone to powerful loggers everyone, many of whom have been elected to high position (mayors, governors and even to Congress and Senate) as one shipment of logs alone would earn a logger 360 million pesos and through these heavy rakings, money were used to buy votes or to pay those who should enforce environmental laws.  A logger was boasting in the 80s that some 90% of those in an office that should enforce the laws was under his payroll including policemen and judges!

Would someone contest such contention? That was in fact, “Res Ipsa Loquitor”!  Almost all of the logging activities then were illegal as there are laws that prohibit logging in altitude with more than 1,000 meters above sea level or in slope with more than 50% gradient. The 300 thousand hectares “Kalatungan Range” in upper Cagayan de Oro, Iligan and Bukidnon should have not been logged at all and these areas belong to those mentioned prohibited categories. But six logging companies perpetuated their greed and their sins are now visited upon the poor and the vulnerable settlers as 3,000 people died because of “Typhoon Sendong” on Dec. 17, 2011.

Illegal mining activities had worsened the ecological scenario as heavy equipments like bulldozers and backhoes had erased whatever was left of our ecological integrity. If indeed, Bohol has “chocolate hills,” we have chocolate rivers causing “death blows” to Macajalar Bay due to massive siltation, worsened by “hydraulic mining” operations.

This is not only true here in this part of the country but happening all over.  Don’t you know that of the 13 major bays in the country, 10 are already biologically dead? Of the 25 major rivers, 14 are dead already! So many bridges, look below and you’ll see dried rivers!

While the Philippine Archipelago has been described as the “center of the center of marine life on earth,” but that is not the case anymore.  Fishery and marine resources had gone down the drain and the fishing communities are becoming the poorest of the poor.  Why? What really happened?  Well, don’t you know that in the 70s, it was Martial Law Year’s time and there was this RP-Japan Treaty of Amity, Commerce and Navigation which allowed the highly computerized vessels to rake our seas. The final death blows to our seas were done by Canada, Australia and South Korea that treated the Archipelago as their “wastes pits” of highly hydrated and toxic garbage.  Not only our seas are dumping grounds of highly cancerous wastes but this is also true to our watersheds. Don’t you know that out of the 14 chemicals used by the 200 thousand plantations in Mindanao, 8 are already banned in other countries?  Don’t you know that many of these corporations are being sued in Puerto Rico for causing cancer to the workers and had been kicked out from that country that is why they are here in Mindanao and are continue expanding?

Many of our babies now are being born without fingers and many are already suffering from cancer, yet, none is being done to rectify these wrongs.  Are we really a nation of coward people?  In fact, based on studies, we Filipinos are already transformed into “self-gratification machines,” so enamored in self-promotion, trivialities, external looks and giving high veneration to “dramas” on television that have already captured our mind as perpetuated by the mainstream media that is just giving us imagery and illusions. “Pasayawin mo lang ang isang guapong kandidato, panalo na! Di ba nasa Probinsyano Yan, panalo na rin kahit walang alam.”

As the world is changing profoundly knowing that phenomena such as gross inequality, decline in social justice, crisis in democracy, ecological turbulence due to climate change and violent extremism are unfortunately becoming ordinary, we are now mandated to rectify such dysfunctions brought by the contemporaneous development paradigm.  This can only be done by harnessing the people’s collective power through cooperativism.

This was actually in the mindset of the framers of the 1987 Constitution right after the EDSA Revolution, which was to institutionalize “people power” by promoting the viability and growth of cooperatives as instruments of equity, social justice and economic development.  This basically emanated from the highest law of the land basic declaration that “in a republican and democratic State, sovereignty lies with the people and all government powers emanate from them.”

Indeed, the root cause of poverty, gross iniquities and social injustice is the POWERLESSNESS OF THE PEOPLE and the only countervailing force is by harnessing their collective power! That is the RAIZON D’ ETRE of the theme of the Cooperative Month Celebration, “Cooperativism a Countervailing Force Against Climate Change and Violent Extremism through People Empowerment to Trailblaze Shift in Paradigm Towards Sustainability and Social Inclusion!”  That is the essence of cooperativism that has now come of age! Join us!