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Amidst the Pandemic | SOCIAL JUSTICE AND EQUITY IS THE CALL OF THE TIMES

The essence of life is not just equated to one’s breathing. I breathe therefore I exist is only applicable in a consumerist and materialistic society but not in the value-based and spiritual life of human beings who are embodied spirits. The awakening process has begun, trail-blazed by those protesting in the United States that is now increasingly echoed globally.  The call in the United States is racial justice triggered by the unjust killing of an African-American named Mr. George Floyd by a law enforcer. Indeed, equity and justice, be it racial or social seems to be the contemporaneous call of the times.   

It is not difficult to understand racial injustice especially in the United States based on a false belief that the white race is more superior than the black’s. That kind of  racial prejudice does not exist in the Philippines. The problem in our country is more of social injustice. Thus, before we can promote social justice, let us reflect for a while and know the horrible “faces” of social injustice in the life of the workers, farmers, indigenous peoples, fisherfolk and the common “tao” in a country that declares in the Fundamental Law (Art. II, Sec.10) that, “The State shall promote social justice in all phases of national development.”

The workers are producers of the wealth of the nation, yet, they live in dire poverty.  In fact, they are leaving in droves, as if jumping from a “sinking ship,” to find jobs in foreign lands, leaving their love ones behind at so much social cost.

Food comes from their farms but the dining tables of the farmers fall short of it, tilling lands not their own and if they do, tied-up to costly seeds and technologies that adhere to conventional agriculture which is beyond their control.  They sell their products under the mercy of “compradors,” following an oppressive marketing system that makes their farming non-viable. Aptly described as the “unsung heroes” and the “backbone” of the country, yet,  they wallow inside the vicious cycle of poverty. 

How about our indigenous peoples? Well, they have become “squatters” in their own native land as the ancestral land which their forefathers had occupied for hundreds of years are now converted into massive plantations. These are the “blessed lands” of our indigenous peoples and these are the choicest of land.  According to a Study of the Development Academy of the Philippines, some 63% of Mindanao is now under the control of Trans-National Corporations (TNCs) and our IPs find themselves farming marginalized and highly steep mountainous areas.  “Gamay lang nga tulod, ang kabaw moligid na.”  

The “blessed lands” have ceased to be so because these lands, where plantations have loomed, reek with poisons, having been  bombarded  for several decades with multifarious toxic chemicals, 8 of which are already internationally banned (based on the examined samples of water, air and soil in Davao.) Certainly, these chemicals are carcinogenic, the reason why cancer has become a common disease of the Mindanawons.

As for our fisherfolk, they are the ones catching fish, yet their children are hungry as malnutrition is highest in the coastal communities.  This is so because the grandeur of the Philippine bays is now fast disappearing as they undergo progressive state of impairment and with it, the marginalization of the coastal populace.  Unlike before when fish would literally jump into their “banca,” fish now can hardly be caught.

Why? What are the fatal blows causing the death of the once mighty marine and fishery ecosystem?  Well, the bays are treated as waste pits.  First is industrial pollution.  Chemical waste from industries and factories are dumped in the bays. Other silent killers are the internationally banned chemical fertilizers and insecticides which are heavily used in surrounding plantations.  

Having narrated the many faces of social injustice, what looms is the imperative call for social transformation. But for those who have advocated, sacrificed, struggled and even died for its, social change has been so elusive all these years despite 14 years of martial law and two people-powered revolutions.  The ingredients, systems and structure that perpetuate social injustice have been as formidable as ever. BUT NOT UNDER THE PRESENT DISPENSATION AS SOCIAL CHANGE HAS COME  THROUGH COOPERATIVISM!

No less than the highest law of the land, the Constitution, has provided in Article 12, Section 15, “to promote the viability and growth of cooperatives as instruments of social justice, equity and economic development.” This noble undertaking can only be done by harnessing the collective power of the people through cooperativism. We have now some 18,000 cooperatives with some 11 million members who are now empowering the poor and the oppressed and drawing them into the mainstream of development processes. Cooperativism is now the countervailing force against climate change and violent extremism. 

Recently, some 15,000 MILF combatants in Camp Bilal, Munai, Lanao del Norte under the command of Kumander Bravo have been organized into cooperatives This was followed by MILF in the North Eastern Mindanao Front headed by Sultan Abdul Amoran, commander of the 1,500 combatants of the Special Force Unit in Camp Arcam, Maguing, Lanao del Sur now organized into cooperative.  In Sibagat, Agusan del Sur, Arnold Acebedo known as Kumander Subang, the Over-all Chieftain of the 10,000-member Manobo Tribe surrendered and is now frontlining cooperativism for social transformation where social justice and equity is the order of the day.

Finally, a miracle of ending the second longest war in the world – the Mindanao War – is now in the offing.  The Land of the Brave and the Free which is Mindanao is the richest on earth with regards to mega diversity. Based on the Study of the UN-FAO, Mindanao Is the richest ecologically per unit area as one can find in the 6,000-ha. Mr. Kitanglad more species of flora and fauna compared to those found in 1 billion ha. continent of North America.  But the ecological wealth is not just found above the ground; beneath is oozing with minerals, i.e., gold, silver, copper and what you. It is paradoxical to note that based on the UNDP Study” that, “of the 25 poorest provinces, 14 are in Mindanao and are suffering from high poverty gap ratio” Who Profits? Who Decides? Who Benefits? From all of these wealth?

Such paradox is now being rectified through people empowerment called COOPERATIVISM,  the GREAT EQUALIZER!

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