WITH a firm collective intent to advance the essence of cooperativism for sustainable inclusive growth especially in the beautiful and bountiful but broken island of Mindanao, more than 5,000 cooperative leaders from the island’s six regions are coming today in Cagayan de Oro for the Mindanao-wide convergence aptly called, Mindanao Power Summit.

Cooperative leaders from Luzon and Visayas are also attending to forge their oneness with the 3,000,000 cooperative members of the One Mindanao Energy Cooperative to bid in owning and managing the Agus-Pulangi Hydro-Power Complex, the biggest hydro-power generation plant in Mindanao with energy potential of some 1,200 Mega Watts.

Why must the millions of consumers of electricity come together to express their willingness to bid for such a power complex whose ownership is equated with that of big business? How dare you ordinary citizens such as workers, consumers, Indigenous Peoples composed of Lumads and Muslims, the peasantry, women, vendors, drivers and even persons with disabilities have the courage to bid for such a key utility through your respective cooperatives?

Today, the people through their various cooperatives are giving notice to one and all that they have awakened. Enough of poverty in Mindanao which six regions are suffering from high poverty gap ratio compared to the rest of the country as poverty is rooted, not for the lack of resources as Mindanao is oozing with ecological resources, but for the powerlessness of the people to have access and control over their resources. As a countervailing measure, it behooves upon the Mindanawons to put power where it rightfully belongs – to the people through their cooperatives.

Thus, the reason for bidding.

Question? Where will they get the money to buy such a gargantuan power complex? Answer – Please don’t underestimate their financial capacity when they act as one. Three million members contributing one hundred pesos per month means three hundred million pesos monthly or 3.6 billion pesos yearly. Peanuts, isn’t it? You may be surprised that the total assets of the more than 8,000 cooperatives in Mindanao is more than 200 billion pesos.

But the bid is more than financial. It manifests what the millions of consumers can do: not so much on competing with capitalists to make more money but in exemplifying the truism that there are things in life which are beyond the commerce of men because these are means to life, i.e., air, water, electricity and food. That said, it must be controlled by the consumers themselves.

Mindanao is oozing with ecological resources including watersheds that should be well maintained. The cooperatives of the Lumads who are living sustainably for thousands of years on top of these “invisible water dams” (the forests) will be the ones to maintain the integrity of the ecosystems and thus will ensure for these ecosystems to provide the continuous flow of water to the hydro-complexes.

The huge cooperative gathering today is a sort of a show of force of the cooperatives in Mindanao that are more than ever ready to advance His Excellency’s Social Contract with the Filipino people especially on the five priority areas: (1) Empowering the poor and the vulnerable to reduce poverty”; (2) a paradigm shift toward a growth that is rapid, inclusive and sustainable; (3) just and lasting peace and the rule of law; (4) transparent, accountable, and participatory governance; and (5) integrity of the environment and climate change adaptation and mitigation.

When key utilities such as the Agus-Pulangi Hydro Power complex are owned and managed by the consumers themselves that is the empowering path to put the poor and the vulnerable in control of their resources and utilities. By doing so, power outages and increasing rate of electricity will be things of the past. Why? Agus-Pulangi has the lowest rate on power generation and there is no need to establish coal-fired power plants in Mindanao. These are already banned in other countries for causing thousands of deaths in America, Europe, India and China. Burning coal has harmed the environment and the people’s health which are too horrible to contemplate.

If the people will not own it, then who will? The big business again? If not, capitalists from China or Korea during these times of economic integration where investments and capital are free flowing? It is the perception of some that those who are raking in so much money being given imprimatur by the proponents of so called Mindanao Power Corporation (MPC) will be the ones to own. If one or two will own, where will “sustainable inclusive growth” be, knowing that those who control power also control business? Yes, the only way to democratize wealth is when the poor and the vulnerable are empowered through their respective cooperatives. Yes to inclusive growth, No to social exclusion.

In this Year of the Poor, we have to “break the bonds of poverty, social injustice and oppression that give rise to scandalous and glaring social inequities” (to quote His Holiness, Pope Francis), only then, can we have JUST AND LASTING PEACE in Mindanao.

Awarding Agus-Pulangi Hydro Power Complex to the people through the One Mindanao Energy Cooperative will lead to peace and those calling for war will surely be put to shame.

Running the Agus-pulangi Hydro Power Complex will surely manifest cooperative principles and practices which are in the DNA of the cooperatives, namely, (a) members-owned, (b) value-based and that of being sustainable.

Lastly, environment being included in the cooperatives’ 7th principle of Societal Concern will be underscored as the three million cooperative members will take care of God’s vanishing creation which is only ours to protect for the coming generation, debunking the dominant economic paradigm which sacrifices the people and the environment to the altar of greed and profit.