In 2010, a certain group of businessmen, the Anvil Business Club claimed current Philippine president Benigno Simeon “BS” Aquino is like Lee in the sense that they are both incorruptible.
That hasn’t turned out very well, has it?
Being “incorruptible” should apply not only to oneself but also in the way one influences others.
Whether BS Aquino is honest or incorruptible, or whatever you’d like to call it, becomes largely doubtful, if not downright irrelevant, because:
1) He is unable or unwilling to stop his allies, or KKK, from doing things that are dubious;
2) Incompetence, which he has shown time and time again, downright trumps the so-called incorruptible nature
The only thing they seem to have in common is that they both don’t take too kindly to criticism. And yet, they do so for different reasons. From an outsider’s point of view, Lee seemed to stifle criticism because he would let nothing get in the way of his vision for Singapore. As it turns out, his decisions to do so were right. In contrast, BS Aquino stifles criticism because he does not want to admit he is wrong even when it is glaringly obvious that his decisions merit criticism.
The difference could be summed up in one word: results. Lee got them, BS Aquino didn’t.
Recently, Vice-President Jejomar Binay had also likened himself to the Singaporean statesman:
“As the architect of modern Singapore, the late Prime Minister shaped his country into one of the most prosperous countries in the world,” said United Nationalist Alliance (UNA) leader and 2016 presidential candidate Binay.
“[Lee] is a dedicated public servant and a well-respected leader. The success of Singapore is but a testament to his decades of remarkable public service,” he added.
Back at Makati, a certain segment of the population casts doubt on whether the Binays had anything to do with the development of that city. Some would say that Makati became what it is not because of the Binays, but in spite of them.
Singapore’s Lee has been admired by many as building a prosperous nation with one of the strongest economies in the world and one of the best qualities of life. In his land, the rule of law seems to be very strictly enforced, often with very hefty fines and/or capital punishment long frowned upon in other parts of the world.
On the other hand, the Philippines can be described as the Wild Wild East. Rule of law, discipline will get you nowhere here. Filipinos don’t plan long term and have consistently shown that they lack foresight. Not only that, they frown upon on those who do all of the above.
Singaporeans can be described as economically free, while Filipinos are politically free, as GRP webmaster benign0 has pointed out. And Filipinos have used that political freedom to vote unqualified people into public office time and time again. Singapore, on the other hand, is not only considered one of the best places to live, it is also one of the safest.
Vision, foresight, discipline, and obedience to the rule of law: if you propagate or insist on any or all of these, Filipinos don’t want you to be their leader. Filipinos can indeed learn a lot from how Lee built up Singapore. That is, if they want to. Whether they could have wanted, much less handled, a leader like him, is another question. As fellow GRP writer Ilda once said, Filipinos are too balat-sibuyas and anti-intellectual for a Filipino parallel of Lee to ever arise.
As Singapore has shown, people don’t mind giving up a bit of their “freedom” as long as they get prosperity in return. Unfortunately, imposing discipline on Filipinos now would be like putting an animal released into the wild back into a cage. Why would it want to go back?
So, it’s kind of hard to appreciate that on one hand, certain Filipinos admire the kind of leader Lee was and the kind of country he build, while on the other hand they would shun a leader like him if ever he came up here.
The key takeaway from what Lee did with Singapore, however, should not be the authoritarianism. It should be the pragmatic idealism. He had vision, foresight, and attention to detail, yet he did what worked.
As Filipinos now struggle with their democracy, the question of whether they are more suited to iron-fisted rule is entertained.
Until Filipinos realize that respect for rule of law, and discipline, and putting the greater good over one’s own, are behaviors that must be ingrained at the deepest cultural level, they can do nothing but keep gawking and staring mouth agape as they get left behind by their Southeast Asian neighbors.
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