Bernardo M. Villegas
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Cooperatives Antidote to Rugged Capitalism

           By sheer coincidence, I addressed a national conference of top officials of successful cooperatives from all over the Philippines on the day  Argentina won over the Netherlands in the semi-final of the World Cup last July 10.  It gave me the opportunity to relate my favorite sport, football, to the contribution that successful cooperatives, especially in the agribusiness sector, can make to combatting the excesses of market capitalism in the Philippines.  I took off from the oft-repeated criticism by Pope Francis of the "absolute autonomy of the market":  "We can no longer trust in the unseen forces and the invisible hand of the market.  Growth in justice requires more than economic growth, while presupposing such growth:  it requires decisions, programmes, mechanisms and processes specifically geared to a better distribution of income, the creation of sources of employment and an integral promotion of the poor which goes beyond a simple welfare mentality..."

          Since I sensed that a good number of the people in the audience followed closely the games of the World Cup, I reminded them that the teams of both Argentina and Netherlands were masters of the tiki-taka style of playing football, i.e. the constant precision passing of the ball from one player to another until it reaches the person who is in the best position to score.  There is no superstar or prima donna mentality.  Each player's talents and skills are at the service of the whole team.  The values inculcated in the players are solidarity, team play, passing and speed of movement.   In fact, the two other semi-finalists, Germany and Brazil also adopted the tiki-taka style to one degree or another.

          This way of playing football, in contrast with the long balls followed by scramble and hustle, originated from the Dutch and was perfected by Johan Cruyff who coached the FC Barcelona (Barca) Club from 1988 to 1996.  Cruyff in turn learned it from Rinus Michels, also a Dutch coach.  Since then, Barca has become famous for this way of playing football, which produced the greatest victories for Barca under the tutelage of Pep Guardiola, who was a disciple of Cruyff, from 2008 to 2012 during which this Catalan team broke all records in the number of trophies they won in a given season.  Arguably, Barca during this winning streak was dubbed as the "greatest team in the world," and its star player Argentine Leo Messi as the best football player ever. Messi is the second player in history, after Michel Platini, to win three consecutive Balons d'Or, the World's Most Valuable Player.

          It is no coincidence that tiki-taka was invented in the Netherlands, which is a nation built on the foundation of cooperatives.  In fact, an outstanding example of the strength of cooperatives in the Netherlands is one of the largest milk companies in the world, Friesland Campino, that is now the owner of the Alaska Milk Corporation in the Philippines.  Friesland Campino is owned by thousands of small dairy farmers in the Netherlands.  The widespread presence of cooperatives in the various sectors of Dutch economic life, especially in agribusiness, has minimized the excesses of market capitalism in that European country famous for dikes and windmills.  As I told the leaders of the cooperative movement in the Philippines, they should promote the playing of football in their respective regions in the Philippines because the sport is an effective means of inculcating in Filipino children from the age of five or six the spirit of cooperation, something direly needed by our culture. Although we proudly speak of the "bayanihan" spirit, it is unfortunately limited to a very small circle of relatives or at best a clan.  The sense of the common good is generally absent in Filipino communities.  Most cooperatives in the Philippines have failed miserably.  The leaders I addressed come from the exceptional ones.

          A successful cooperative is in a better position to look beyond the economic dimension of human existence.  As mentioned above, it can address the cultural defect of individualism or a clannish mentality among many Filipinos.  It can heighten the social consciousness of people in business by making them more aware of how interlinked are their varied activities in the supply chain, as in agribusiness where farming, post-harvest, processing, wholesaling, transport, and retailing have to be closely coordinated for efficiency and cost effectiveness.  Cooperatives can play a major, if not exclusive role, in every link of this supply chain.   From the sad experiences of many cooperatives in the Philippines, the successful ones realize how important is moral integrity among their members since dishonesty has been a very common cause of the failure of cooperatives, with the treasurer running away with the money.  Finally, cooperatives cannot afford to ignore the political dimension of their members.  They have to be active in dialoguing with government officials at all levels, from the LGU unit all the way up to Congress whose members they must enlighten so that the right laws affecting cooperatives (as in the innovative workers cooperative movement) will be passed.  It was providential that Congressman Cresente Paez, who represents the cooperative sector in the Lower House, was among those in the audience. For comments, my email address is