On August 2, 2016, no less than our beloved President visited and embraced a brave 31-year old 1st Lieutenant soldier by the name of Jerome Jacuba who was then lying in bed totally blind in V. Luna Hospital in Quezon City. His blindness was an offshoot of a battle he bravely fought in Maguindanao, manifesting courageous stand against those forces who want to put Mindanao in their stranglehold. Indeed, what greater love there is than one who is willing to die so that others may live. That was bravely shown by the passionate and intelligent young soldier Jerome Jacuba who could have been a general.  But he was not alone in that hospital. In fact, there are now more than 70 wounded soldiers who are now persons with disabilities because of the war in Mindanao.

Last year, I together with my key staff of the Cooperative Development Authority touched base with these gallant soldiers and organized them, upon their request, as the Wounded Soldiers Agriculture Cooperative as they will face bravely this time another war – that is the war against poverty.

In fact, last year, I brought Lt. Jacuba, the elected Coop Chairman and some officers to Marawi to meet the internally displaced persons (IDPs) who were also organized by CDA into cooperatives.  In a program in Marawi with the coops of the IDPs, no less than Lt. Jacuba announced that “noon pong may mata ako, hindi ako nakakita. Ngayon pong wala na akong mata, nakita ko ang katotohanan na ang panglaban pala sa gyera sa Mindanao ay hindi baril kung hindi kooperatiba.” After his message, Lt. Jacuba shouted, “KOOP LABAN SA MANANAKOP.”

It is of due notice that there can be no peace if people are hungry. In Mindanao, aptly called the “food basket” of the nation, no one should be hungry, yet, it is in Mindanao where there is high incidence of hunger.  It is a pity seeing malnourished children against the backdrop of vast agricultural lands producing high value crops and all kinds of fruits. But these are not meant to be eaten by the people. These are for exports, to feed over-nourished people in highly developed countries.

There can be no peace if many Mindanawons are wallowing in poverty. In an island oozing with ecological resources where two-thirds of the nation’s exports are coming from, there should be no reason for poverty, yet, the poor in Mindanao are the poorest throughout the country.  All of its six regions are suffering from high poverty gap ratios compared to other regions in Luzon and in the Visayas. The Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao has the highest incidence of poverty at 70% followed by CARAGA Region at 69%, based on a Study by the United Nation’s Development Program.

Yes, amidst the bounty lies so much poverty.  Food comes from their farms, yet, the farmers’ dining tables fall short of it.  The workers are the producers of the wealth of the nation, yet, they live in extreme poverty.

Unless these contradictions are rectified, peace will remain an illusion.  Unless those in the margins are drawn into the mainstream of development processes, all the outpourings of development programs will just be palliatives and cannot be the real solution.  Unless social injustices and inequities are erased in a social structure where the few elite continue to have much too much and the many who are poor have much too little, we will ways have negative peace, ready to erupt anytime given a flimsy stirring as in the case of the “Maguindanao Massacre.”

The lethal combination of apathy and greed has caused so much disarrays and poverty in an island oozing with natural resources. Poverty, according to several studies, is rooted in the social exclusion and powerlessness of the people especially the native inhabitants who have lost access and control over these resources.  As a countervailing measure, the people must be empowered and be drawn into the mainstream of development processes

Empowering the marginalized sectors is easier said than done.  It means putting power where it rightfully belongs – to the people. But such will never be given in a silver platter.  The people themselves must work for it. They must bind themselves together, harness their collective potentials and energies and to countervail against the cultures of poverty, powerlessness, corruption and violence.  It is only then can they craft their own destiny and bring development and peace in this troubled island of Mindanao.

It is in this light that cooperativism has a very important role to play as it is the vehicle of empowering the people to effect social transformation based on the principles of social justice, equity, peace and sustainable development.

How far have we gone in the pursuance of the State’s policy to foster the growth of cooperativism to combat the number one enemy of the people which is dehumanizing poverty?

We have now some 18,700 cooperatives with some 11 million members  composed of farmers, fisherfolk, workers, entrepreneurs, women, Lumads, Muslims, the youth, senior citizens, government employees, PNPs, Military, former MNLF combatants and even of the handicapped.  Membership in cooperativism cuts across gender, beliefs, class, sectors, age and even ideologies. It is the unifying as well as the liberating force to advance a collectivist counterculture while harnessing their inherent power to firmly advance their God-given right of decision-making as responsible citizens.

Being value-based and principles driven, the cooperatives now in the Philippines and all over the world are now joining the call of the United Nations to advance the 17 Sustainable Development Goals: stop poverty and hunger, advance equity and social justice, promote peace and sustainable development, protect the environment, etc. As the alternative development paradigm to correct the dysfunction of the contemporaneous economic model, there is now looming the call of the times which is, Transformative Cooperatives for People, Planet, Prosperity and Peace!

Indeed Lt. Jerome Jacuba is right:  coooperativism is the real path to peace. “Kooperatibismo laban sa terorismo. Koop laban sa mananakop.