THE CUSTOMS MULTI-PURPOSE COOPERATIVE; REALIZING A VISION AND FULFILLING A PROMISE
By Jasmine Joie
Cooperatives provide the bridge for anyone who would like to join the process of social change and development, if only to be self-reliant and financially independent, even as it fosters inclusive growth among its members.
Such is the beauty of cooperatives, especially when these are well managed like the Customs Multi-Purpose Cooperative (CMPC) where it has already touched and changed the lives of some of its members.
But for the CMPC’s current Chairman, retired ESS Customs Police Col. Esmeralda Saplala, turning around the cooperative when it was at the verge of dissolution and making it a nationally recognized from rags to riches cooperative model that is a recipient of four (4) outstanding cooperative awards, was not an easy job.
“It is actually a management combination of firm control with a soft heart and the cooperation and commitment of our members as well, that make all these good things happen to our cooperative today.” Saplala said, adding that, “While we have to make sure that all our cooperative rules are being followed, we also have to show compassion for our members, especially in their hours of need.”
Realizing a Vision
Originally named Customs Consumers Cooperative when it was organized by customs officials and employees on August 4, 1974 upon the initiative of then Customs Commissioner Rolando Geotina, the customs visionaries believed that forming a cooperative would not only help them save for the future, but more importantly, it will be a good refuge in times of financial crisis.
The cooperative was allowed to float 50,000 shares with a par value of P 10.00 per share for a total paid-up capital of P 500,000.00. Starting out relatively good in its initial years of operations, the cooperative, however, started to encounter difficulties when its membership and their contributions to the coop started to dwindle in the late 80’s. Efforts were made to revitalize the cooperative in the 90’s, followed by a reorganization, amendment of some of its cooperative rules, laws and provisions, including the change of its name from Customs Consumers Cooperative to Customs Multi-Purpose Cooperative to allow it to expand its business operations. Thus, from a cafeteria the cooperative’s business expanded to catering, a mini mart and a business center.
Thus, with calls from its members to bring back the old glory days of the cooperative, in the cooperative’s 2007 general election, Saplala was elected as one of its Board of Directors and subsequently voted upon by the Board to lead the cooperative as its Chairman.
Rising from its Lowest Years
According to Saplala, the cooperative’s biggest challenge when she assumed its chairmanship was to encourage customs officials and employees to join the cooperative. With its membership down to less than a hundred and member contributions also going down, they had to be innovative to make the cooperative interesting and appealing to customs personnel.
“We had to aggressively pursue our collection initiatives on unpaid loans, regardless of who were involved. We also made a lot of improvements in the cooperative canteen to spruce it up and to make it a conducive place for dining.” Saplala said.
Among the measures successfully undertaken by the cooperative to ensure its loan collections was its agreement with the Bureau of Customs to require its retiring officials and employees to seek clearance from the cooperative.
The Growth Years
With its streamlined operations, tightened logistics and financial controls and higher interest earnings for monies invested in the cooperative resulting in more investments by its members, the cooperative’s precarious financial situation in the 80’s was reversed with a robust financial growth beginning in the 90’s. Thus, from its P 500,000.00 paid-up capital when it was formally organized in 1974, the cooperative now has a P 15 million paid-up capital.
According to Saplala, they are now working on raising the cooperative’s paid-up capital to P 30 million because of the clamor by its members to allow them to invest more in the cooperative. “Even non-members are now eagerly waiting for the levelling-up of our paid-up capital to enable them to join the cooperative.” Saplala said, adding that “This would help increase our membership.”
“With the cooperative’s current paid-up capital of P 15 million, we can only have 300 members to allow us to provide the appropriate benefits to our members. But when our request for the levelling-up of our paid-up capital to P 30 million is granted, then we can start accommodating new members.” She added.
Among the programs of the cooperative are its collateral free calamity and emergency loans where its members are allowed to borrow up to a maximum amount of P 200,000.00. As a safety-net to guarantee the cooperative’s loan collections within a maximum period of 18 months, post dated checks are required to facilitate loan approval. Dividends from the earning of the cooperative’s investments are released twice a year, one during the enrollment period for the second semester and the other during Christmas season.
According to Saplala, her most touching encounter with a member in need was a cancer patient who was having a hard time with his medical treatments as his funds were already drained. “We granted him expeditiously, a P 200,000.00 loan to help him with his medication, even if his only money in the cooperative was his P 15,000.00 paid-up capital. Moreover, I appealed to the other members of the cooperative for their personal financial help” Saplala stressed, adding that “And true enough, with the rapport we have in the cooperative, help poured in from the CMPC community to a fellow CMPC member in need.”
Realized Vision and Fulfilled Promise
If the feeling of being part of a cooperative that is always there ready to assist is a vision, and if feeling confident that monies invested by its members in the cooperative are secured is a promise, then the Customs Multi-Purpose Cooperative has definitely realized a vision and fulfilled a promise, which according to Saplala, is their ardent mission.
The dividends that each cooperative member receive twice each year, and the loans granted by the cooperative to its members, including the other programs for its members and the community, are testimonials of the Customs Multi-Purpose Cooperative’s commitment for service.
According to Saplala, while they have succeeded in turning around the cooperative’s financial position, they are working on further strengthening these gains to make it a sustainable growth.
“We want that, when the time comes for us to hand over the leadership of the cooperative to a new team, for its financial and organizational gains to be strengthened, or at least sustained. We have come a long way in attaining the respect and status we now enjoy, and we cannot allow all these to be wasted and just go down the drain.” Saplala said, adding that “With God’s help, we shall attain the goals of this cooperative.”