Real Independence

June 13th, 2013

We celebrated yesterday our country’s 115th Independence Day.  Our country is no longer a young democracy. In a way, we have reached a certain level of political maturity, having gone through less controversial election processes, with sincere electoral reforms and stricter COMELEC rules especially in the last election, and strong media campaigns to educate the public on the importance of voting the right candidates.

We can say that there is a good degree of political independence as well, obtaining freedom from a dictator since 1986, the freedom to speak, to write and to protest to the point that some groups even overdo or abuse this freedom. We have also always cited a good degree of economic freedom with better economic fundamentals, growth rates of 7.8%, low interest rate regime, record-level international reserves, strong run-up in the stock market (with recent corrections), followed by recent Investment Grade credit ratings.

Despite the rosy macro-economic picture, many would argue however that there is one freedom we have yet to achieve; that is the FREEDOM FROM POVERTY that many in the lower income group still experience. We were surprised to hear the government reports that the poverty level has improved only slightly to 27.9% in 2012, coming from 28.6 in 2011. The increase in unemployment figures the other day was also a telling revelation, which was not taken lightly by the market which crashed 318 points.  It is this reality that reminds us that we need to have more mass-based employment capacity which the micro SMEs, among other sectors, can well generate.  This drives many organizations like Go Negosyo to continue to do its share on how it can help improve the situation.  How we can empower the micro SMEs to level-up and be more job-generators.  How we can empower those living below the poverty line to rise beyond the challenges, to have hope, and the knowhow to move up.

As we go through this advocacy, we learn many life stories. Stories of failures, and stories of success.  We learn that life is a choice. It really depends on what you want your life to be.  I remember the message of Robert Kiyosaki in one of his books that life is like a movie and you are the producer and the director. It has an ending and it is your call how you want the ending to be.  Will it be a sad ending or will it be a good and happy ending?  The choice is in your hands.  In having a success-oriented entrepreneurial mindset, we take control of our destiny, and remove culture of entitlement.  We find ways to do what we have to do. My grandfather would always say before that we should learn to “paddle our own canoe”.  Yes, there are challenges, but we will overcome.

As we celebrate the spirit of freedom in the country, we have also been inspired by the incredible stories of our agri-entrepreneurs who fought for their own freedom from poverty. These entrepreneurs are featured in our latest book “Go Negosyo: 50 Inspiring Stories of Agri-Entrepreneurs”.

The farmer members of Pecuaria Development Cooperative Inc. (PDCI) in Camarines Sur while having their training programs.

The farmer members of Pecuaria Development Cooperative Inc. (PDCI) in Camarines Sur while having their training programs.

Davao del Norte’s Cagangohan Women’s Association (CWA) is a testament that women are never restricted to stay at home and just wait for their husbands to come home after work. The 20 housewives who formed the CWA found ways to move up in life and be more productive.  They are now busy processing and selling bottled milkfish or bangus harvested from two assigned cages in the sprawling Panabo City Mariculture Park, a 618-hectare marine farm. Wherever Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR) would have training sessions, CWA members were always there to actively participate and learn.  Notably, CWA is one of the pilot beneficiaries of the Sagip Saka program of Senator Francis Pangilinan.

Camarines Sur’s Pecuaria Development Cooperative Inc. (PDCI) is committed to make a success of the venture after failing numerous times in its early years. Their luck finally turned in 1994 when PDCI members – 426 agrarian reform beneficiaries in the Pecuaria estate distributed in 1992 – were introduced to organic farming.  Concerned NGOs and LGUs provided trainings (shown in photo).  But in the beginning, the PDCI members adopted organic rice production just to have enough rice on the table. They realized later that it is not enough as they needed to have a sustainable source of income to pay for their other needs like education for their children. They have grown and are even exporting rice. Now, PDCI is paying forward by opening its flourishing organic farms to customers, farmers and cooperatives that want to learn from its example.

Batangas pride Jose Mercado grew helping his father tend a coffee farm. He and his father used to sell coffee in 1970s. Since it is the only sector that he knew by heart, he naturally turned to it as his business and realized his dream to have a better life being the eldest of the eight siblings. He was not able to finish school but he took up courses in accounting and taxation for his business. With a capital of just P3,000, he started his coffee trading business and later, with his wife, put up Merlo Enterprise that produces kapeng Barako. Despite the difficulty borrowing money during their first years of business, Jose persisted, focused on reaching his goals, as he kept his faith with the Lord. From one employee when he started, he has now 200 employees spread across his many operations.

There are many other inspiring stories, stories which achieved freedom from poverty.  Stories of entrepreneurs who faced all adversities but came out winners through passion and determination, accompanied by continuous innovations. As they achieve freedom from poverty, it is also heartwarming to see that they also exercise the freedom to payback and help others in return.