Along the north-eastern coast of Luzon, a hundred kilometers away from the capital town of Aurora, lies the West Casiguran Agrarian Reform Community. It is composed of the agricultural barangays of Calabgan, Dibet, Esteves, Casiguran, and Aurora. The topography is generally mountainous with low-lying farmlands and pristine coastlines.
In this ARC, the West Casiguran Agrarian Reform Beneficiaries Multi-Purpose Cooperative or WECARBEMPCO came into being in 2004 and was registered with the Cooperative Development Authority.
“Nagsimula lang po kami na may 25 na kasapi. Tinulungan po kami ni Eduardo Amponget, development facilitator mula sa DAR, para mag-organisa ng kooperatiba. Sa simula, nagpa-raffle ticket po kami at kumita kami ng P9,000. Ito po ay ipina-utang namin sa aming mga members…” Merly Torre, treasurer and one of the founders of WECARBEMPCO, warmly narrates.
A temporary space for monthly meetings and credit transactions of the cooperative was established within the makeshift veranda, made out of bamboo strips, of Jose Flores’ house in barangay Bianoan, town of Casiguran.
Flores used to be the first chairperson of WECARBEMPCO. The officers met at the makeshift from 2004 to 2009.
In 2010, credit funds amounting to P500,000 from the Credit Assistance Program for Program Beneficiaries Development (CAP-PBD), a CARP-funded lending program run by the Land Bank of the Philippines, was accessed by the cooperative to fortify its credit operation.
“Noong nangutang kami sa Landbank, ni-require kami na magtalaga ng manager. Itinalaga namin si Gng. Lourdes Vallejo bilang manager ng WECARBEMPCO”, Torre added.
Records would later reveal that the said loan was paid in full.
In 2013, instead of renewing the loan from CAP-PBD, a credit line amounting to P3-million from the Agrarian Production Credit Program (APCP), another CARP-funded lending program, was secured to boost the institutional capacity of the cooperative as a retail lender.
Torre proudly narrates that from 2010 to 2013, share capital and savings deposits grew significantly from about P230,000 to over P400,000 and almost P70,000 to P80,000, respectively.
Amidst this growth, however, challenges beset the cooperative, Torre reveals.
“Noon po, konti pa lamang ang aming kaalaman sa pagpapatakbo ng negosyo, nakatutok lang po sa iilang tao ang pamamahala. Nagkaroon po ng mismanagement. Base po sa pag-aaral ng mga BOD, nakita na ang sanhi ng problema ay “one-man-rule”. Wala pa po kaming regular staff noon, wala pang opisina, mahina ang internal control, sa bahay lang ni manager nagaganap ang mga transaksyon” Romeo Esteves, former chairperson of the board, sadly notes.
In 2014, under the management of Vallejo, internal control issues, inaccurate inventory, unbooked payments, and unauthorized termination of membership rocked the cooperative.
“Dahil sa nagaganap na katiwalian sa pamamahala ng pondo sa pagpapautang, halos ayaw na magbayad ng mga kasapi namin noon…” Torre adds.
According to Torre, the Board of Directors summoned manager Vallejo to thresh out the issues at hand and give her the opportunity to explain. As a consequence, Vallejo and the Board signed a settlement agreement.
In 2015, chairperson Esteves finished his term of office and was appointed as the new manager. Under his watch, the cooperative bought a house and lot also in barangay Bianoan.
In 2016, renovation of the said building into an office commenced. The cooperative furnished the building with office tables, chairs, laptops, printers, ceiling fans, filing cabinets, and a safety vault.
In the same year, regular office days and working hours for regular employees were institutionalized.
Moreover, policies, systems and procedures of the cooperative were compiled into a Manual of Operation with assistance from the DAR, Land Bank and CDA.
In 2018, after establishing its office and manual of operations, the cooperative launched its microfinance services. Initially, 100 microfinance loans were provided to enterprising borrowers-shareholders.
To date, services and products of the WECARBEMPCO include rental of farm machineries, production loans, microfinance loans, and Damayan fund, among others.
Just last year, share capital contribution skyrocketed to almost P5-million. Savings deposits ballooned to about P2-million. Total assets registered at more than P10-million and a net worth of around P7-million.
“Ang tuloy-tuloy na pagpapalawak ng kasapian, mahusay na pamamahala at matatag na negosyo ang naging daan sa pagkamit ng aming layunin bilang isang kooperatiba” Virgilio Valencia Jr, current manager, quips.
Valencia narrates that from 2004 to March 2023, total number of shareholders of WECARBEMPCO significantly climbed from 25 to 416. Out of this, 319 are Agrarian Reform Beneficiaries or ARBs.
“Bilang isang matatag na kooperatiba sa norte, ang kwento ng WECARBEMPCO ay isang patunay sa kakayahan ng ARB coop bilang tulay sa kaunlaran”, PARPO II Precy Landingin says in jest.
“Sa hinaharap, plano namin na magtayo ng gasolinahan, transient house at resort sa Casiguran”, Esteves remarks.
After 19 years of successful operation, Torre is optimistic that the cooperative will continue to be sustainable, profitable and will remain the leading ARB cooperative in northern Aurora, providing a variety of opportunities and improving the standard of living for enterprising ARBs and the West Casiguran ARC as a whole (Alan Ibale, Provincial Information Officer-Aurora).