The body of former president Corazon Aquino lay in state on August 2, 2011 at a public wake at the St. Benilde Gymnasium, La Salle Green Hills. Outside, the streets were lined with yellow ribbons, the symbol of celebration after the People Power revolution. However, most Filipinos were inconsolable. As the sympathy flowers that ornament the wake, the ribbons serve one purpose—to provide a vivid and lasting memory for those who have gathered to mourn the passing of the lady most dear to our nation.
Two years later, the loss of founder of the PinoyME Consortium continues to fill microfinance practitioners with sorrow. Members of the consortium honor her memory by striving to fulfill her vision—that of ending poverty in the lives of Filipinos through microfinance. And while the flowers and ribbons of her wake no longer provide them with keepsakes of Tita Cory’s life, there are blossoming communities all over the country that remind them of her humble yet indomitable spirit. These are the seeds of hope that were planted on that doleful day when the Aquino family requested for people to donate to the PinoyME Social Investment Fund (SIF) in lieu of flowers.
Laua-an farmers stand against poverty
In the mountainous town of Laua-an, Antique, a cooperative with mostly muscovado farmers as members is being served by the SIF donations gathered during the wake. The SIF was brought about to expand the reach of microfinance to the poorest clients.
Much like its muscovado farmers, the Laua-an Multi-Purpose Cooperative (LMPC) has endured the decline and resurgence of the muscovado industry. The LPMC traces its origins from the Laua-an Cooperative Credit Union of 1965, which was established by Mill Hill Missionaries to fight poverty when the influx of refined sugar was weakening the profits of farmers. The cooperative then was housed in the church. “We dealt with financial challenges with a paluwagan system,” said LPMC general manager Jun Espanola.
The cooperative was reorganized into LPMC in the 90s when muscovado sugar regained profitability with the demand for natural health products. However, though the collaboration and diligence of LPMC members has transformed Laua-an into a hub for muscovado sugar, Espanola said that most of the 6,000 families in the town are still suffering in poverty.
The LPMC works to mend this by providing funds, livelihood opportunities, and marketing services not only to muscovado farmers and their families, but also to “handicraft makers, housewives, and teachers.” LPMC at present has a total membership of 1,168–70% are women while 30% are men.
“Iba’t-ibang klase ang lending windows namin. Nag-lelend kami sa mga farmers and also sa mga micrentrepreneurs,” said Espanola.
Espanola, who received the Dilidhon Ngalauan-on Award for community service during the 2009 Pahinis Festival, started out as technical assistant and rose from the ranks through hard work in LPMC.
Tita Cory’s legacy in Laua-an
The LPMC received from the SIF funds that served as capital for their muscovado sugar trading. These were also used to provide microfinance loans, which brought livelihood opportunities to farmers before harvest time.
“Ang laking tulong. Maliban sa agri-trading, nagkaroon ng pagkakakitaan yung mga members tuwing planting season. Gumagawa sila ng mga handicrafts tulad ng wall décor. Nakapag-propovide kami ng materials tulad ng bamboo. Noong harvest naman, bumili kami sa kanila sa magandang presyo. Kasi napakababa na nga bumili ng mga traders dito, dinadaya pa yung weighing scale,” said Espanola.
He added: “Nagpapasalamat kami dahil donation instead na material ang ibinigay nila kay former president Cory Aquino. Mas maganda kasi maraming natutulungan especially dito sa amin kung saan maraming mahihirap. Dito naman po ay lagi po naming inaalala ang mga Aquino dahil sa mga magagandang ginawa nila. Dito po sa Laua-an, idolo po talaga namin ang mga Aquino at tsaka sana mapagpatuloy pa ang mga ideya tulad nito na nakatutulong sa mga mahihirap na tao tulad namin.”
Those who provided donations to the SIF instead of flowers during the memorial service include: the Info Tech the Association of the Philippines Convergence Alliance, Inc., the Philippine Investment Management, Inc., Social Weather Stations, the Small Business Guarantee & Finance Corp., Ultrex Managers and Consultants, Isla Lipana & Co., the University of the East, the Aldaba-Lim Foundation, the Landbank of the Philippines, as well as several individuals.
The SIF today helps fund the microfinance services and livelihood projects of MFIs and cooperatives in other agricultural areas such as Ilocos and Davao del Norte.