In the bustling heart of San Jose Public Market in Occidental Mindoro, a group of determined market vendors embarked on a transformative journey, one that would not only liberate them from the grip of predatory 5-6 lending schemes but also empower them to forge a brighter future for their families. This is the inspiring story of how a simple idea turned into a life-changing cooperative venture.

Frustrated with the exorbitant interest rates and financial struggles imposed by 5-6 lenders, 25 market vendors decided it was time for a change. They envisioned an alternative solution that would not only alleviate their financial woes but also foster community unity. And so, they came together to form a cooperative.

Pooling their resources, these market vendors established the San Jose Vendors Development Cooperative, Inc. (SJVDCI) in 1989 and initiated a lending program that provided fair and affordable loans to its members. For three years, they diligently saved and operated as a lending program, providing their members with an alternative to predatory lenders. However, fate had other plans. In 1992, a devastating fire ravaged their market stalls, leaving them in despair.

With determination as their driving force, they seized the opportunity presented by the Tulong sa Tao Self-Employment Assistance Program, a lifeline provided by the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI), to secure additional capital for their lending initiative. Aside from DTI, the Provincial Government and Local Government Unit of San Jose, Presidential Management Staff (PMS) under the Presidential Social Fund, National Market Vendors Confederation of Cooperatives (NAMVESCCO), and the Tagalog Cooperative Development Council (TAGCODEC) extended assistance which allowed them to rebuild the cooperative. Rather than returning to their previous ventures, they decided to diversify. The cooperative ventured into the grocery business and bag-making, expanding its horizons.

In 1997, as a symbol of its growth, the cooperative changed its name to San Jose Vendors Multi-Purpose Cooperative (SJVMPC). They continued to explore new opportunities, however, in 2002, they faced another challenge when the public market underwent renovation. Displacement and relocation of vendors resulted in a decline in their lending repayment rates.

However, SJVMPC refused to succumb to adversity. They implemented cost-cutting measures and entered the palay trading industry. Then, in 2008, another fire struck the public market, leaving them disheartened and struggling to collect past-due loans from their members.

Despite the setbacks, they diversified once more, this time into tailoring. Recognizing the potential, they reached out to DTI and were fortunate to be selected as cooperators for the Shared Service Facilities (SSF) Project which granted them access to a state-of-the-art Computerized Embroidery Machine amounting to Php 975,000.00 in 2015.

Captivated by innovation: Members of SJVMPC eagerly observe the demonstration of the state-of-the-art computerized embroidery machine at the ceremonial launching of the SSF on Embroidering and Sewing.

As the cooperative delved into tailoring, their quality and dedication quickly gained recognition in the market. Orders poured in, and their embroidery services became highly sought after. The computerized embroidery machine revolutionized their productivity, enabling them to take on larger projects and meet deadlines with ease.

Their commitment was further bolstered by their participation in DTI’s Kapatid Mentor Me Program (KMME) in 2017. Eager to enhance their knowledge and skills, the officers of the cooperative attended the 10-module mentorship program, further honing their entrepreneurial acumen. Attending KMME sessions proved invaluable for the cooperative, as they gained insights, strategies, and tools to streamline their operations, enhance their financial management, and foster stronger collaborations within the group.

Impressed by the cooperative’s excellent performance, the DTI provided them with yet another unit of an embroidery machine in 2018. This expansion allowed the cooperative to serve even more clients and increase its revenue substantially. 

Seamlessly stitching progress: The provision of an additional embroidery machine allowed SJVMPC to increase its productivity, perfectly poised to cater the surging demand.

When the pandemic struck, their fortitude was tested once more, as the tailoring industry experienced a downturn due to decreased demand. To stay afloat, they quickly adapted by producing face masks, pillowcases, and curtains. DTI continued to support the cooperative by assisting them in establishing an e-commerce presence, ensuring that they could reach a wider audience beyond their local market. This shift to online sales helped them weather the challenges of the pandemic and maintain a stable income.

After demonstrating successful operation from 2014 to 2020, with a 194% increase in sales and a 75% increase in the number of beneficiaries assisted by the project, DTI transferred the full ownership of the 2 units of Computerized Embroidery equipment to the cooperative on October 24, 2021.

In the midst of the pandemic, the cooperative decided to expand its horizons yet again by venturing into meat processing. This bold move was once again supported by DTI, which once more stepped in through the SSF Program. Necessary tools and equipment were provided to the cooperative, allowing them to establish a thriving meat processing business. Their commitment to quality and food safety led to a range of delectable products such as tocino, longganisa, ham, and marinated samgyupsal that quickly gained popularity among locals and beyond. The cooperative, which now has over 200 members, is on the brink of achieving yet another milestone as they prepare to take full ownership of the SSF equipment for Food Processing this September.

Savor the flavors of Occidental Mindoro with Oksi Delight’s Longanisa- a taste of tradition and local goodness in every bite.

As they look ahead to the future, SJVMPC aims to expand their tailoring business even further, tapping into new markets and reaching more customers. Simultaneously, they are working diligently to obtain a License to Operate from the Food and Drug Administration for their meat processing venture. This pivotal step will not only ensure the safety and quality of their food products but will also open doors to broader markets.

As SJVMPC continues to flourish, its story serves as a testament to the transformative power of unity, resilience, innovation, and government support. Through fires and economic challenges, they not only survived but thrived, proving that with determination and the right support, even the most daunting obstacles can be overcome. ♦

Date of release: 14 September 2023