The Internet has amplified divergent opinions and bypassed a tightly controlled media that over the years has acted less like a watchdog and more like a cheerleading squad for the government and its ambitions. Partly because of social media, Singapore appears more divided than in the past.
The most prominent and contentious issues are bread-and-butter concerns: a surge in immigration over the last decade, rising living costs and soaring property prices.
Tan Wee Cheng, 45, a management consultant, said Singaporeans felt vulnerable and were concerned about “how to survive and make a living in a highly competitive society with a labor market that is open to the rest of the world.”
Battling a low birthrate among its citizens, the government opened the floodgates to foreign labor over the last decade and a half. More than a third of the 5.5 million people living in Singapore today are not citizens.
The number of nonresident immigrants has more than doubled since 2000, to nearly 1.6 million from 754,000. The number of foreigners given permanent resident status also nearly doubled during the same period, to just over 500,000.
At the higher income end, Singaporeans feel threatened by foreign executives and managers brought in to run the city-state’s world-class companies. At the lower income end, Singapore benefits from foreign workers in shopping malls, at construction sites and in restaurants. Critics say the country’s fragile national identity, which was still a work in progress, has been interrupted by the surge of immigrants.
The backlash against immigrants has boxed in the government. In response, it has imposed restrictions making it harder to hire foreigners. But at the same time, it plans to increase the country’s population to 6.9 million by 2030, mainly through immigration.
Other cracks starting to show in the Singapore model stem from complaints over a lack of freedom of expression and political pluralism. Catherine Lim, a social critic and author, wrote a widely circulated open letter to the government last year taking it to task for not listening to the concerns of its citizens. It began, “We are in the midst of a crisis where the people no longer trust their government, and the government no longer cares about regaining their trust.”
She assailed the government for hardball tactics against its political opponents, saying it had “no qualms” about reducing them to bankruptcy.
This month, Singapore’s High Court fined a blogger, Alex Au, the equivalent of $5,800 for “scandalizing contempt” of the judiciary.
His crime? Mr. Au, a gay rights activist, had questioned why the Supreme Court had scheduled the hearing of a constitutional challenge to a British colonial-era law banning gay sex ahead of a separate challenge filed before it.
The case was not about homosexuality, he said, but political control.
“What has happened in the last 20 years is that the government has loosened up, but only in ways that are not politically threatening — sex, gambling,” he said. “It’s a camouflage for the fact that detention without charge is very much on the books, and newspapers must be licensed.”
Karim Raslan, a regional political analyst and newspaper columnist, said the leadership in Singapore would be forced to adjust its tone.
“As a leader in Singapore now, you have to be more inclusive, you have to be able to persuade more and bring people along with you,” he said. “Lee’s iron hand did not really allow for much dissent, but today the hierarchical nature of Singapore has broken down.”
For decades the governing People’s Action Party faced a token opposition with only a handful of seats in Parliament. But the party’s share of the vote has been steadily declining since 2001. In 2011, voters, including young Singaporeans, dealt the party its worst setback yet, awarding it only 60 percent of the popular vote.
The next general election must be held by January 2017 but may be called sooner, in part because the government may seek to benefit from the nostalgia and affection for Mr. Lee after his death.
Mr. Tan, the vice dean at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy, said he expected Singapore to enter a period of introspection after the ceremonies and eulogies for Lee Kuan Yew, including the state funeral on Sunday.
“It cannot be just the government leading the way forward,” he said. “The people have to be as much a part of this, so a new social contract can be forged which can be legitimate to all.”
If so, it is a lesson the government is still learning. On Monday, the government banned protests and other gatherings at Hong Lim Park, whose Speakers’ Corner was one place free speech was traditionally tolerated.
Instead, the National Parks Board announced, the park would be a designated site “for remembering the late Mr. Lee Kuan Yew.”
The passing of Singapore’s founding father and elder statesman should give us pause, and a chance to reflect on the historic opportunities that we Filipinos have lost, as well as the enduring virtues that we have kept.
Lee Kuan Yew died early last Monday, and was immediately hailed by US President Barack Obama as “a visionary who led his country from … independence … to becoming one of the most prosperous countries in the world.” Indeed, in his island-nation, Lee carved out what he called “a First World oasis in a Third World region” and trained his citizens to act “more like First World citizens, not like Third World citizens spitting and littering all over the place.” He took pride in his haven of meritocracy amid a sea of mediocrity. There’s no need for Filipinos to feel alluded to because true to form, Lee actually said as much in so many words, and sometimes even while visiting the Philippines (though with more restraint and diplomacy).
There are many Filipinos who, when asked about how to solve the ills of our nation, would say that we should find a Filipino Lee Kuan Yew, a benevolent dictator who would govern for the good of all, and who can combine free-market economics with one-party rule. But these same Filipinos should also ask themselves: When we do find our own Lee Kuan Yew, will we let him govern the way Lee did? Would we even elect him to public office in the first place?
The New York Times described Singapore the nation as embodying the strengths of Lee the man: “efficient, unsentimental, incorrupt, inventive, forward-looking, pragmatic.” Many Filipinos crave the efficient and valorize the incorrupt. But would we elect the unsentimental, when we so value people skills? Lee has even confessed in his memoirs that often he had to rely on his wife’s sixth sense to judge people’s characters. Don’t we constrain inventive and forward-looking government officials because they are too daring, and prefer the stodgy bureaucrats who cross their “t’s” and dot their “i’s” but don’t produce results? And don’t we define pragmatic as willing to compromise and cut corners, and not ask, as Lee did, whether it was for the general good?
Lee used the so-called “Asian values” argument each time he was criticized by the West for his repressive policies, especially his curtailment of free speech and his use of the law and the courts to punish his enemies with libel convictions, as in the case of the late oppositionist J.B. Jeyaretnam, whom Lee drove to bankruptcy and was consequently disbarred as a lawyer. Through all these, Lee was unapologetic: “I had to do some nasty things, locking fellows up without trial.”
In a regional human rights gathering, a Singaporean expert echoed that logic: “Some countries have the right to housing, but their people live in slums. We have houses.” Make that “high-rise apartments” to be more precise, but you get the point.
But the “Asian values” argument thrived for as long as the Asian tiger economies flourished, and waned with the Asian financial crisis. It drew its power from the fact that Lee delivered results and, indeed, Singapore, without a common ethnicity, no common native language, and so bereft of natural resources that it has to import its drinking water from Malaysia, has prospered. It can now match the wealth of the North Atlantic democracies, Europe and Japan.
But the decreasing parliamentary dominance of Lee’s party, the People’s Action Party, reminds us, too, that when you trade off freedom for bread, or rights for rice, it comes at a price. They have the vibrancy of a free market. We have the vibrancy of the free marketplace of ideas, a rambunctious, even licentious, press now enhanced by popular access to social media and new technologies. The nanny state has lulled the natives into what Singaporeans themselves caricature as “kiasu,” a fear of losing that induces a tendency to play it safe, and it has so dulled indigenous creativity that a local study showed that its leading entrepreneurs were either dropouts of their local schools or graduates of foreign studies.
Filipinos take pride in the “rule of law” which has led to a government-by-stalemate that has yielded sorry results. Perhaps we should look at Lee Kuan Yew’s “rule by virtue,” where the law is but an instrument for social engineering and the courts defer to decisions by the wise for the benefit of the majority. When we do find our own Lee Kuan Yew, let us remember to give him or her enough room to let virtue reign.
Peter Tanchi, the senior pastor of Christ Commission Fellowship (CCF), had been telling me to write about the need for public officials to sign a waiver of their bank secrecy rights at the same time they sign their oath of office or employment. I told him I had written this a number of times, but he insisted I have to keep writing until it is happens.
The need to stop corruption is the simple justification for what would normally be considered an invasion of privacy. It is a way by which the Ombudsman can check allegations of corruption against a public official.
Without it, everything becomes a “he said, he denied” situation that diminishes public trust in our government. I understand Indonesia’s highly effective anti-corruption agency, the same one that won the Magsaysay Award, has that power to look into bank accounts of public officials.
The annual filing of the Statement of Assets and Liabilities and Net Worth or SALN is not enough. There must be a way of verifying the data claimed in a SALN. Such verification by AMLC or the Anti-Money Laundering Council was proven to be most useful during the impeachment proceedings against former Chief Justice Renato Corona.
In the case of Vice President Jojo Binay and his tormentors in the Senate, the only way accusations and denials can be verified is through an examination of the bank accounts of the Vice President, his family and close associates. It is not enough to just claim the charges are politically motivated because that’s obvious.
It is unfortunate the Vice President is opposing the examination of his accounts by AMLC, an agency that works under the Bangko Sentral, the most trusted of public institutions. By asking the Supreme Court to stop such an examination, the Vice President is sending the subliminal message that he might have something to hide. Nothing responds to accusations of corruption best than the balm of a clean conscience. A clean conscience, on the other hand, removes any fear of an investigation by AMLC.
Indeed, the AMLC is the best institution we have to keep our officials honest, by following the money through its paper or digital trail. The law should even be strengthened to enable the agency to do its job well. The results of AMLC examinations are now supporting the corruption charges against Sen. Jinggoy Estrada and Sen. Bong Revilla before the Sandiganbayan.
The claim that an automatic waiver of bank secrecy by a public official invades his privacy does not hold water. So is the claim that it would discourage qualified people from seeking public office. No one forced the official to become a public official. If he is so finicky about his privacy, he should have stayed as a private citizen. Anyone who is reluctant to automatically allow the Ombudsman to order AMLC to examine his bank accounts can be presumed to have something to hide.
Indeed, public service is not for everyone. Given the pervasive state of corruption in government today and its negative impact on our country’s development, we have to limit the honor of holding public office only to the most honest of our citizens.
Of course, it would be nice if high government officials are also given a compensation package commensurate to the skills required of the office, as is the case in Singapore. We can’t afford to do that yet, but still it is a fact that many of our officials have been getting rich while in office. It is time to find out without doubt how that happened.
The link between corruption and the failure of government to adequately deliver essential public services is clear. That explains why honesty in public office had been deemed important when people elected P-Noy in 2010, even if they had doubts about his leadership abilities. Indeed, kung walang corrupt, walang mahirap.
Speaking for myself, I voted for P-Noy even if I thought he is less capable than some of the other presidential candidates because I figured he will not steal while in office and he had Mar Roxas to help him. At the end of his term, I expect him to go back to the house of his parents on Times Street, not in an exclusive Makati enclave.
My mistake was I didn’t realize P-Noy would tolerate corruption and incompetence among his close aides. This explains why people now think Daang Matuwid is a joke. And I overestimated the effectiveness of Mar despite his honesty and best intentions.
This reminds me of something S. Dhanabalan, an associate of the late Lee Kuan Yew wrote on the subject of honesty in the highest places. He said LKY insisted on honesty even if it meant going against a friend. I hope P-Noy reads the next few paragraphs and learns from it.
“To call Lee Kuan Yew my friend would not be quite right. More accurately, we were colleagues. I don’t think he had many friends, because he was so focused on doing what was good for the nation, and that would require him sometimes to act against his friends. If he was too friendly with anyone, that could color his decision, so he was very careful.
“Many leaders of countries are honest. India’s Jawaharlal Nehru was honest. Julius Nyerere in Nigeria was honest. Manmohan Singh is honest. But that’s not enough. You must be prepared to demand honesty and be ruthless with your relatives and friends if they are not. Otherwise you can’t get the honest culture established.
“Lee Kuan Yew was not only honest, but he was also ruthless in demanding honesty from his colleagues. You could have been his colleague, you could have fought with him through the long march, it didn’t matter. If you are dishonest, you’re out.
“So I think in order to make sure he did not soften in this approach, he was very careful about establishing friendships with people.”
Too bad P-Noy, like his mother before him, thought being honest themselves was enough. They allowed people close to them to do business as usual.
This is why Jojo Binay should be concerned about this attempt to stop the AMLC from checking his accounts. It shows fear and would color the public perception of his honesty in public office.
True, it can be said that after the experience with a half baked anti corruption program of P-Noy, the public probably no longer cares that much about honesty. That probably explains why Jojo continues to enjoy the lead among potential presidential candidates in a recent Pulse Asia survey despite pretty damaging stories about alleged corruption under his watch in Makati.
As far as some people see it, all politicians are crooks anyway so they just vote for the one who helps them. It may be true that in a presidential contest a good political network drubs honesty, but Jojo shouldn’t sell himself short.
Jojo has done good things for his constituents in Makati to the point of creating a mini welfare state there. Free health care and free high quality education are at the core of what our poverty stricken countrymen need. Having come from the ranks of the poor rather than the traditional elite, Jojo understands the basic needs of people and he delivers.
But the Jojo I know is bigger and better than his political enemies see him. He showed he has his heart in the right place by being a human rights lawyer when it was dangerous to be one. Now that Jojo is writing the final chapter of his life, he needs to remove that cloud of doubt that hangs over him. Otherwise, his legacy would be less than it could have been. He shouldn’t waste his date with destiny with a good segment of the Filipino people thinking he might have been less than honest.
It is time for Jojo to instruct his law firm to drop that case filed in the Supreme Court seeking to prevent the AMLC from doing its job. If he is clean, AMLC should be able to testify to that fact because the paper trail from his banks says so.
Otherwise, it would be safe to say not even his supporters fully believe in their hearts that the charges against Jojo are simply politically motivated. At the very least there is doubt, but they choose to discount the corruption allegations because they like Jojo… and for good reasons too because overall, he had served them well.
It would be very impressive if Jojo can stand on a platform and dare AMLC officials to do their job because he knows he has nothing to hide.
Until AMLC can certify all is clear, people will always think where there’s smoke, there’s fire and as a consequence, think less of public officials. That weakens public confidence in our government and is a threat to our democratic system that its enemies can exploit.
One of the best ways for us Filipinos to realize the Truth about ourselves and our country is to find out how people from other countries observe us and our society. This is best done when the one observing and describing us is an extremely well-informed and highly intelligent non-Filipino who has had his own fair share of problems similar to the ones that the Philippines has gone through (or is currently going through), and had a hand in actual problem-solving for his own country’s originally Philippines-like issues.
An example of such a person is Singaporean Minister Mentor and former Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew. Hailed as the Father of Modern Singapore, Lee Kuan Yew and his People’s Action Party were able to craft appropriate solutions for the issues and problems that were hounding Singapore early on in its history as a newly-independent Third World country with no natural resources, a huge number of uneducated people, and security problems resulting from the initial hostility of its neighbors towards it, among many other problems and managed to turn it into Southeast Asia’s oasis of prosperity and development and a First World hub within a region of what were then known as “Third World” countries.
The following excerpt which features Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew’s observations on the Philippines and of Filipinos should at least entice the readers of www.antipinoy.com to immediately pay a visit to the local Bookstore (those which specialize in real books – not school supplies!) and ask around for copies of the book from whence it came - “From Third World to First.”
Far from just being a book about Lee Kuan Yew or Singapore’s history of development, “From Third World to First” is also a collection of invaluable lessons in economic development, policy-making, international diplomacy, statecraft, domestic politics, history & culture, behavioural and cultural reform, meritocracy, the principles of pragmatic idealism, and examples of ingenious out-of-the-box thinking. In it, Lee Kuan Yew himself also describes how he and his team of technocrats were able to reform the culture, mindset, and behavior of a people who in the 1950’s were still predisposed to spitting in public and other unhygienic behavior as a result of carefully-planned behavioural-modification policies and systems which have turned Singapore into one of the cleanest and most orderly societies in Asia as well as well as the World.
This book can no doubt serve as a helpful handbook for any would-be leader of any Third World country looking to move into the First World.
I truly encourage all Filipinos who work in government, have an interest in government, or are looking for lessons on how to craft solutions to the problems of the Philippines to please buy a copy of this book. I assure everyone that “From Third World to First” will not just be eye-opening and enlightening, it will also enable Filipinos to understand that finding solutions to our problems is very possible if only we adopted a can-do attitude, a bias for intense learning and analysis, a solid framework for critical analysis and big-picture thinking, as well as a grounding in practical & creative out-of-the-box problem-solving.
If Singapore with Lee Kuan Yew and the People’s Action Party could do it, why can’t we?
* * *
(The following excerpt is taken from pages 299 – 305 from Lee Kuan Yew’s book “From Third World to First”, Chapter 18 “Building Ties with Thailand, the Philippines, and Brunei”)
The Philippines was a world apart from us, running a different style of politics and government under an American military umbrella. It was not until January 1974 that I visited President Marcos in Manila. When my Singapore Airlines plane flew into Philippine airspace, a small squadron of Philippine Air Force jet fighters escorted it to Manila Airport. There Marcos received me in great style – the Filipino way. I was put up at the guest wing of Malacañang Palace in lavishly furnished rooms, valuable objects of art bought in Europe strewn all over. Our hosts were gracious, extravagant in hospitality, flamboyant. Over a thousand miles of water separated us. There was no friction and little trade. We played golf, talked about the future of ASEAN, and promised to keep in touch.
His foreign minister, Carlos P. Romulo, was a small man of about five feet some 20 years my senior, with a ready wit and a self-deprecating manner about his size and other limitations. Romulo had a good sense of humor, an eloquent tongue, and a sharp pen, and was an excellent dinner companion because he was a wonderful raconteur, with a vast repertoire of anecdotes and witticisms. He did not hide his great admiration for the Americans. One of his favourite stories was about his return to the Philippines with General MacArthur. As MacArthur waded ashore at Leyte, the water reached his knees but came up to Romulo’s chest and he had to swim ashore. His good standing with ASEAN leaders and with Americans increased the prestige of the Marcos administration. Marcos had in Romulo a man of honor and integrity who helped give a gloss of respectability to his regime as it fell into disrepute in the 1980s.
In Bali in 1976, at the first ASEAN summit held after the fall of Saigon, I found Marcos keen to push for greater economic cooperation in ASEAN. But we could not go faster than the others. To set the pace, Marcos and I agreed to implement a bilateral Philippines-Singapore across-the-board 10 percent reduction of existing tariffs on all products and to promote intra-ASEAN trade. We also agreed to lay a Philippines-Singapore submarine cable. I was to discover that for him, the communiqué was the accomplishment itself; its implementation was secondary, an extra to be discussed at another conference.
We met every two to three years. He once took me on a tour of his library at Malacañang, its shelves filled with bound volumes of newspapers reporting his activities over the years since he first stood for elections. There were encyclopedia-size volumes on the history and culture of the Philippines with his name as the author. His campaign medals as an anti-Japanese guerrilla leader were displayed in glass cupboards. He was the undisputed boss of all Filipinos. Imelda, his wife, had a penchant for luxury and opulence. When they visited Singapore before the Bali summit they came in stye in two DC8’s, his and hers.
Marcos did not consider China a threat for the immediate future, unlike Japan. He did not rule out the possibility of an aggressive Japan, if circumstances changed. He had memories of the horrors the Imperial Army had inflicted on Manila. We had strongly divergent views on the Vietnamese invasion and occupation of Cambodia. While he, pro forma, condemned the Vietnamese occupation, he did not consider it a danger to the Philippines. There was the South China Sea separating them and the American navy guaranteed their security. As a result, Marcos was not active on the Cambodian question. Moreover, he was to become preoccupied with the deteriorating security in his country.
Marcos, ruling under martial law, had detained opposition leader Benigno (Ninoy) Aquino, reputed to be as charismatic and powerful a campaigner as he was. He freed Aquino and allowed him to go to the United States. As the economic situation in the Philippines deteriorated, Aquino announced his decision to return. Mrs. Marcos issued several veiled warnings. When the plane arrived at Manila Airport from Taipei in August 1983, he was shot as he descended from the aircraft. A whole posse of foreign correspondents with television camera crews accompanying him on the aircraft was not enough protection.
International outrage over the killing resulted in foreign banks stopping all loans to the Philippines, which owed over US$25 billion and could not pay the interest due. This brought Marcos to the crunch. He sent his minister for trade and industry, Bobby Ongpin, to ask me for a loan of US$300-500 million to meet the interest payments. I looked him straight in the eye and said, “We will never see that money back.” Moreover, I added, everyone knew that Marcos was seriously ill and under constant medication for a wasting disease. What was needed was a strong, healthy leader, not more loans.
Shortly afterward, in February 1984, Marcos met me in Brunei at the sultanate’s independence celebrations. He had undergone a dramatic physical change. Although less puffy than he had appeared on television, his complexion was dark as if he had been out in the sun. He was breathing hard as he spoke, his voice was soft, eyes bleary, and hair thinning. He looked most unhealthy. An ambulance with all the necessary equipment and a team of Filipino doctors were on standby outside his guest bungalow. Marcos spent much of the time giving me a most improbable story of how Aquino had been shot.
As soon as all our aides left, I went straight to the point, that no bank was going to lend him any money. They wanted to know who was going to succeed him if anything were to happen to him; all the bankers could see that he no longer looked healthy. Singapore banks had lent US$8 billion of the US$25 billion owing. The hard fact was they were not likely to get repayment for some 20 years. He countered that it would be only eight years. I said the bankers wanted to see a strong leader in the Philippines who could restore stability, and the Americans hoped the election in May would throw up someone who could be such a leader. I asked whom he would nominate for the election. He said Prime Minister Cesar Virata. I was blunt. Virata was a nonstarter, a first-class administrator but no political leader; further, his most politically astute colleague, defense minister Juan Ponce Enrile, was out of favour. Marcos was silent, then he admitted that succession was the nub of the problem. If he could find a successor, there would be a solution. As I left, he said, “You are a true friend.” I did not understand him. It was a strange meeting.
With medical care, Marcos dragged on. Cesar Virata met me in Singapore in January the following year. He was completely guileless, a political innocent. He said that Mrs. Imelda Marcos was likely to be nominated as the presidential candidate. I asked how that could be when there were other weighty candidates, including Juan Ponce Enrile and Blas Ople, the labor minister. Virata replied it had to do with “flow of money; she would have more money than other candidates to pay for the votes needed for nomination by the party and to win the election. He added that if she were the candidate, the opposition would put up Mrs. Cory Aquino and work up the people’s feelings. He said the economy was going down with no political stability.
The denouement came in February 1986 when Marcos held presidential elections which he claimed he won. Cory Aquino, the opposition candidate, disputed this and launched a civil disobedience campaign. Defense Minister Juan Enrile defected and admitted election fraud had taken place, and the head of the Philippine constabulary, Lieutenant General Fidel Ramos, joined him. A massive show of “people power” in the streets of Manila led to a spectacular overthrow of a dictatorship. The final indignity was on 25 February 1986, when Marcos and his wife fled in U.S. Air Force helicopters from Malacañang Palace to Clark Air Base and were flown to Hawaii. This Hollywood-style melodrama could only have happened in the Philippines.
Mrs. Aquino was sworn in as president amid jubilation. I had hopes that this honest, God-fearing woman would help regain confidence for the Philippines and get the country back on track. I visited her that June, three months after the event. She was a sincere, devout Catholic who wanted to do her best for her country by carrying out what she believed her husband would have done had he been alive, namely, restore democracy to the Philippines. Democracy would then solve their economic and social problems. At dinner, Mrs. Aquino seated the chairman of the constitutional commission, Chief Justice Cecilia Muñoz-Palma, next to me. I asked the learned lady what lessons her commission had learned from the experience of the last 40 years since independence in 1946 would guide her in drafting the constitution. She answered without hesitation, “We will not have any reservations or limitations on our democracy. We must make sure that no dictator can ever emerge to subvert the constitution.” Was there no incompatibility of the American-type separation of powers with the culture and habits of the Filipino people that had caused problems for the presidents before Marcos? Apparently none.
Endless attempted coups added to Mrs. Aquino’s problems. The army and the constabulary had been politicized. Before the ASEAN summit in December 1987, a coup was threatened. Without President Suharto’s firm support the summit would have been postponed and confidence in Aquino’s government undermined. The Philippine government agreed that the responsibility for security should be shared between them and the other ASEAN governments, in particular the Indonesian government. General Benny Moerdani, President Suharto’s trusted aide, took charge. He positioned an Indonesian warship in the middle of Manila Bay with helicopters and a commando team ready to rescue the ASEAN heads of government if there should be a coup attempt during the summit. I was included in their rescue plans. I wondered if such a rescue could work but decided to go along with the arrangements, hoping that the show of force would scare off the coup leaders. We were all confined to the Philippine Plaza Hotel by the seafront facing Manila Bay where we could see the Indonesian warship at anchor. The hotel was completely sealed off and guarded. The summit went off without any mishap. We all hoped that this show of united support for Mrs. Aquino’s government at a time when there were many attempts to destabilize it would calm the situation.
It made no difference. There were more coup attempts, discouraging investments badly needed to create jobs. This was a pity because they had so many able people, educated in the Philippines and the United States. Their workers were English-speaking, at least in Manila. There was no reason why the Philippines should not have been one of the more successful of the ASEAN countries. In the 1950s and 1960s, it was the most developed, because America had been generous in rehabilitating the country after the war. Something was missing, a gel to hold society together. The people at the top, the elite mestizos, had the same detached attitude to the native peasants as the mestizos in their haciendas in Latin America had toward their peons. They were two different societies: Those at the top lived a life of extreme luxury and comfort while the peasants scraped a living, and in the Philippines it was a hard living. They had no land but worked on sugar and coconut plantations. They had many children because the church discouraged birth control. The result was increasing poverty.
It was obvious that the Philippines would never take off unless there was substantial aid from the United States. George Shultz, the secretary of state, was sympathetic and wanted to help but made clear to me that the United States would be better able to do something if ASEAN showed support by making its contribution. The United States was reluctant to go it alone and adopt the Philippines as its special problem. Shultz wanted ASEAN to play a more prominent role to make it easier for the president to get the necessary votes in Congress. I persuaded Shultz to get the aid project off the ground in 1988, before President Reagan’s second term of office ended. He did. There were two meetings for a Multilateral Assistance Initiative (Philippines Assistance Programme): The first in Tokyo in 1989 brought US$3.5 billion in pledges, and the second in Hong Kong in 1991, under the Bush administration, yielded US$14 billion in pledges. But instability in the Philippines did not abate. This made donors hesitant and delayed the implementation of projects.
Mrs. Aquino’s successor, Fidel Ramos, whom she had backed, was more practical and established greater stability. In November 1992, I visited him. In a speech to the 18th Philippine Business Conference, I said, “I do not believe democracy necessarily leads to development. I believe what a country needs to develop is discipline more than democracy.” In private, President Ramos said he agreed with me that British parliamentary-type constitutions worked better because the majority party in the legislature was also the government. Publicly, Ramos had to differ.
He knew well the difficulties of trying to govern with strict American-style separation of powers. The senate had already defeated Mrs. Aquino’s proposal to retain the American bases. The Philippines had a rambunctious press but it did not check corruption. Individual press reporters could be bought, as could many judges. Something had gone seriously wrong. Millions of Filipino men and women had to leave their country for jobs abroad beneath their level of education. Filipino professionals whom we recruited to work in Singapore are as good as our own. Indeed, their architects, artists, and musicians are more artistic and creative than ours. Hundreds of thousands of them have left for Hawaii and for the American mainland. It is a problem the solution to which has not been made easier by the workings of a Philippine version of the American constitution.
The difference lies in the culture of the Filipino people. It is a soft, forgiving culture. Only in the Philippines could a leader like Ferdinand Marcos, who pillaged his country for over 20 years, still be considered for a national burial. Insignificant amounts of the loot have been recovered, yet his wife and children were allowed to return and engage in politics. They supported the winning presidential and congressional candidates with their considerable resources and reappeared in the political and social limelight after the 1998 election that returned President Joseph Estrada. General Fabian Ver, Marcos’s commander-in-chief who had been in charge of security when Aquino was assassinated, had fled the Philippines together with Marcos in 1986. When he died in Bangkok, the Estrada government gave the general military honors at his burial. One Filipino newspaper, Today, wrote on 22 November 1998, “Ver, Marcos and the rest of the official family plunged the country into two decades of lies, torture, and plunder. Over the next decade, Marcos’s cronies and immediate family would tiptoe back into the country, one by one – always to the public’s revulsion and disgust, though they showed that there was nothing that hidden money and thick hides could not withstand.” Some Filipinos write and speak with passion. If they could get their elite to share their sentiments and act, what could they not have achieved?
President Noynoy Aquino and everyone in his cabinet and staff (all secretaries down to the director level) should all get copies of “From Third World to First” and read the book at least twice.
Singapore bids farewell to Lee Kuan Yew in elaborate funeral
Associated Press 10:56 AM |
Sunday, March 29th, 2015
SINGAPORE — Singaporeans are lining a 15 kilometer (9 mile) route through the city-state to witness an elaborate funeral procession for longtime leader Lee Kuan Yew.
During a week of national mourning that began Monday after Lee’s death at age 91, some 450,000 people queued for hours for a glimpse of Lee’s coffin at Parliament House. A million people visited tribute sites at community centers across the island.
People began arriving along the cortege route not long after dawn for the procession which begins early Sunday afternoon.
Leaders and dignitaries from more than two dozen countries are attending the state funeral.
Lee was Singapore’s prime minister for more than three decades, ruling with an iron grip until 1990 and is regarded by Singaporeans as the architect of their island’s prosperity.
When examining another country, it is quite normal to take one’s own country in context. What is it like in Singapore (Sg), compared to the Philippines (Ph)? How are the two countries rated by objective observers? How do Singaporeans look at their situation, and how do we Filipinos look at ours?
Objective indicators of wellbeing. The standard approach, commonly used by international development organizations, is to look into objective indicators of each country’s state of health, education and income. In such matters, Singapore outclasses the Philippines across the board.
For persons born in 2013, the average life expectancy is 82.3 years in Sg, versus 68.7 years in Ph.
For every 1,000 live births, the average number of infants that die is 2 in Sg, versus 24 in Ph, as of 2010. For the same number of live births, the average number of children under 5 years old that die is 2.8 in Sg, versus 29.9 in Ph, as of 2013. For every 100,000 live births, the number of mothers that die is 6 in Sg, versus 120 in Ph, as of 2013.
The schooling of an average adult was 10.2 years in Sg, versus 8.9 in Ph, as of 2012. The schooling available to an average child was 15.4 years in Sg, versus 11.3 in Ph, as of 2012.
The gross national income per capita (GNIpc), valued in 2011 PPP $ (Purchasing Power Parity, or what a dollar could buy in the United States in 2011) was $72,371 in Sg, versus $6,381 in Ph, in 2013.
The Human Development Index (HDI) is a combination of life expectancy at birth, years of schooling and income per capita. HDI is .901 in Sg, versus .660 in Ph, as of 2013.
(A country’s HDI is made by taking 1.000 as the world’s best achievement in each underlying dimension, getting the country’s position relative to the best achievement, and then averaging the country’s positions. Norway has the world’s top HDI of .944, with a life expectancy of 81.5 years, 12.6 years of schooling among adults, 17.6 years of schooling available to a child, and GNIpc of $63,909.)
Subjective happiness and satisfaction with life. Throughout Southeast Asia, whenever surveys ask if people are Very Happy, Somewhat Happy, Somewhat Unhappy, or Very Unhappy, the first two choices combine for at least 90 percent of the responses, making countries indistinguishable.
However, the Very Happy proportion, specifically, was higher in Ph (50 percent) than in Sg (38 percent), according to the latest World Values Survey, in 2012. If one may refer to the extreme feeling as Joy, then one may say that Filipinos are more joyful than Singaporeans.
Alternatively, one can check the Gallup World Poll (GWP), taken of adults in over 160 countries, which asks respondents to rate their satisfaction with life on a scale of 0 to 10, where 0 is the worst possible life, and 10 is the best possible life, that they can imagine. This is called a ladder scale, with 0 as ground level, and 10 as top level.
Pooling together the annual GWP over 2010-2012 (thus tripling the sample size), the average ladder score turns out to be 6.5 in Sg, versus 5.0 in Ph. (In both countries, these averages are more or less unchanged from 2005 to 2007, by the way.) So, are Singaporeans more satisfied with life than Filipinos? Bear in mind that a ladder-scale operates on the basis of the best hopes and the worst fears. Is there a reasonable similarity between the extreme limits of hopes and fears for these two peoples?
The state of democracy. Not long ago, I wrote about the Democracy Index that has been made by the Economic Intelligence Unit (EIU), a private firm that does country-analysis (Opinion, 11/15/14). This index uses judgement calls by country experts, and adds readings from opinion polls in the countries themselves. It is scaled from 0 (i.e., nil) to 10 (i.e., complete) democracy. Scores of 8 and up indicate a “full democracy,” 6.0 to 7.9 imply a “flawed democracy,” 4.0 to 5.9 refer to a “hybrid regime,” and less than 4.0 imply an “authoritarian regime.”
In the Democracy Index for 2012, Singapore’s overall score is 5.88 (i.e., “hybrid regime”) versus the Philippines’ overall score of 6.30 (i.e., “flawed democracy”). Thus, the Democracy Index puts Philippine democracy as superior, on the whole, to Singaporean democracy.
However, the overall Democracy Index score is built up from five underlying scores. These details show Philippine democracy as superior in the three dimensions of (a) civil liberties, by 9.12 versus 7.35 in Sg, (b) electoral process and pluralism, by 8.33 versus 4.22 in Sg, and (c) political participation, by 5.56 versus 3.33 in Sg.
(To illustrate the dimension of civil liberties, I should point out that Singapore has legal bans on exit polls and on surveys of voter preferences during the campaign period. In the Philippines, on the other hand, these two types of survey activities are protected by explicit Supreme Court rulings, in 2000 and 2001, that affirm their coverage by the Constitutional guarantee of freedom of expression.)
On the other hand, Singapore has a superior rating in the two dimensions of (d) government functioning, by 7.50 versus 5.36 in Ph, and (e) political culture, by 6.88 versus 3.13 in Ph.
What aspects of the current situation in Singapore may be attributed to its great leader Lee Kuan Yew, who passed away last week?
Vice President Jojo Binay has seen fit to eulogize Lee Kuan Yew, calling him “the architect of modern Singapore,” a “dedicated public servant and well respected leader,” and saying that “the success of Singapore is but a testament to his decades of remarkable public service.”
Nothing out of the ordinary in there. We do not doubt that Mr. Lee was all of that and more. He made a small island an industrial and commercial giant. Unfortunately, Mr. Binay went further in his eulogy. His praise of Mr. Lee was then used to praise himself: “His political will and pragmatic approach to governance was my inspiration in rebuilding Makati after the 1986 Edsa Revolution from a bankrupt municipality to the country’s premier city providing unparalleled social services to its constituents…”
Now that has to be the most tasteless, and shameless, use of an iconic public figure’s death for one’s own political ends, in the hope that the glitter from Mr. Lee’s stature will rub off on him. It is a statement that also happens to be inaccurate. Only consider:
Mr. Lee’s governance, from all accounts, was one that brooked no corruption at any level. The war on corruption was waged very early in his regime. Mr. Binay’s service as mayor of Makati was hounded by corruption and corruption charges from the beginning, which have lasted to this day. Where’s the “inspiration”?
Mr. Lee’s “dynastic” tendencies is a far cry from Mr. Binay’s. Mr. Lee’s reign as prime minister of Singapore ended in 1990, and Goh Chok Tong (no relation) succeeded him. In 2004, Goh was succeeded by Mr. Lee’s son, Lee Hsien Loong. Mr. Binay has held sway over Makati since 1986. His successors as mayor have been his wife and his son. Where’s the “inspiration”?
Mr. Lee “forged a widely admired system of meritocratic, corruption-free and highly efficient government and civil service.” Does that describe Makati City now?
Then there are Mr. Binay’s claims about Makati:
I have not been able to access the Commission on Audit report on Makati for 1986, so I cannot report whether the municipality was bankrupt in 1986. I can only say that Mayor Nemesio Yabut was the predecessor of Mr. Binay, and his reputation was not of the best.
In any case, we have to remember what it was like in the Philippines in 1986, when Cory Aquino took over as president. The economy had collapsed earlier, in 1984, due to the international debt crisis—and its polity had just been shaken up by the assassination of Ninoy Aquino in 1983. It was chaos all over, not just in Makati.
But to say that Mr. Binay built up Makati to become the Philippines’ premier city is a stretch. Makati was the country’s business and financial center even in 1986, Binay or no Binay. The skyscrapers, condominium buildings, hotels and shopping centers would have been built whoever the mayor was. I do not recall anyone saying that the reason they chose Makati was the Binay administration. Their entry may even have been in spite of him.
The Makati experience is being used by Mr. Binay to woo voters. It goes like this: Vote for Binay, and he will make your cities, municipalities and barangays like Makati, with its own university and hospital, etc. That is obviously a falsehood. Makati’s revenues—from 62,000 business enterprises—is not replicable anywhere. Makati has benefited from economies of agglomeration, which have nothing to do with Mr. Binay.
Are there “unparalleled” social services for its citizens? No question about it. The seniors even get a cake on their birthday, courtesy of a favored baker. But that is because Makati can certainly afford it; it has the highest income of all cities in the Philippines. The question is not whether the citizens of Makati (and those from all over the Philippines that are being wooed by the Binays) are having these “unparalleled” social services, but whether they should have more, especially since the sharing of the revenues seems to be “one for them (the constituents), one (or two) for us.”
Everything can be condensed into the following: Lee Kuan Yew made Singapore immensely rich, while Makati made Mr. Binay immensely rich. That’s the difference.
And by the way, I thought the Binays did not want the Senate hearings, because these were supposedly usurping the powers of the Office of the Ombudsman and the courts? “Let the courts decide,” the Binays said. So why are they fighting the Ombudsman and the courts every inch of the way? When the judicial proceedings to ferret out the facts are delayed by legal maneuverings, how are the citizens going to make an informed decision?
All political leaders worry about their legacies. Lee Kuan Yew, who presided over Singapore either directly or indirectly for more than a half-century ― remaining influential right up to his death at 91 ― had more time in power than most to do so.
Several volumes of memoirs attest to Lee’s concern about his legacy, although Singapore’s extraordinary success under his leadership speaks for itself. Like him or not ― and many did not ― there is no denying the city-state’s remarkable and enduring prosperity and stability.
Yet the effort put into those memoirs by the man who called himself “Minister Mentor” during his later years offers a clue about Lee’s ultimate concern. His legacy in terms of Singapore’s past success may be clear, but what about the future?
That, of course, is one of the few things he could not control, beyond offering his teachings to future generations. Yet in one crucial respect ― determining who Singapore’s new generation of leaders will be ― the tight control that Lee exercised in the past may now make that future more difficult. The issue is certainly solvable, especially given an excellent education system and high-quality institutions of all kinds. But Lee’s own actions suggest that he harbored doubts.
The succession to Lee was clear: after handing over the premiership in 1990 (at the surprisingly young age of 66) to a trusted associate, Goh Chok Tong, he groomed his eldest son, Brig. Gen. Lee Hsien Loong, for the job. After serving as Singapore’s trade minister, finance minister, and deputy prime minister, Lee Hsien Loong took over the top post in 2004. What is unresolved is where power goes next, and how.
Perhaps the answer will simply be that the ruling People’s Action Party will choose a successor in the conventional way. Certainly, Singapore’s cadre of talented and experienced officials and ministers is deep. Still, the question is an open one, owing to Lee Kuan Yew’s somewhat paradoxical sensitivity to the prominence of his family members in some of the country’s most senior posts.
Lee fought many battles with the international media over their coverage of Singapore, especially from the mid-1980s onward, by which point the country’s success had become abundantly clear. As a Cambridge-trained lawyer, he was especially keen on using the law to browbeat his media (and political) critics, knowing full well that he had no serious chance of losing in Singapore’s own courts.
During my time as the editor-in-chief of the Economist from 1993-2006, I received such browbeatings on many occasions. What eventually became clear was that under no circumstances could Lee Kuan Yew countenance one particular word or concept: nepotism.
After all, he had set up Singapore as an intensely meritocratic society, in which competition, under clear and accepted rules, was king. So when his own son became prime minister, and his daughter-in-law, Ho Ching, took the helm at Temasek, one of the state’s huge investment companies, any insinuation that they had done so on anything other than their own merit was unacceptable.
Lee established a high-minded committee to establish that nepotism was not the reason, and then set about suing anyone who dared to suggest otherwise. Yet this abhorrence of nepotism was illogical ― and Lee was generally nothing if not logical, even ruthlessly so ― because in this case a perfectly good justification for it followed smoothly from his own analysis of Singapore.
A tiny, multiracial society ejected from Malaysia in 1965, Singapore was born in an atmosphere of vulnerability, lack of legitimacy and trust, and ethnic conflict. Up through the 1980s and 1990s, Lee often justified the continuation of authoritarian policies by reference to those communal riots, and to the ever-present possibility of a loss of social trust and a return to conflict.
So, in passing the baton to his eldest son, he could be said to have dealt with that risk in the most logical way possible. If you trusted the founder of Singapore and thought him legitimate, who better to trust than the founder’s own son? Indeed, the father would remain on the scene, first as “Senior Minister” and then in his mentor role, and had made his son prove his abilities openly in a series of prominent positions.
It worked, and Lee Hsien Loong has by all accounts done a good job as prime minister, whatever the explanation for his rise. There is no current risk to Singapore’s political stability, and the younger Lee is only 63 years old; he could remain in office for a long time to come.
The question, though, remains: What happens next? Lee Kuan Yew dealt with the question of succession by deferring it. His son will need to provide the answer.
By Bill Emmott
Bill Emmott is a former editor in chief of the Economist and the author of “Good Italy, Bad Italy, and The Rivals: How the Power Struggle Between China, India, and Japan Will Shape Our Next Decade.” ― Ed.