It’s the obvious question everyone is asking nowadays amidst a raft of hate blogs and other such digital artifcats going “viral” all over the Net. Many of these seem to have stemmed from the whole fracas surrounding a plan by Filipino community leaders to stage a 12th June Independence Day event at a major shopping centre in Singapore. The plan attracted a lot of debate and, with it, anonymous trolls lobbing racist abuse into the mix.
Politicians on boths sides of the sea have since chimed in even as organisers of the event withdrew their plans presumably under the weight of the harrassment. Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong has condemned Singaporeans who were involved in the online harrassment for their “thuggish behaviour”. Charles Jose, spokesman of the Philippines’ Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) assured everyone that this is an “isolated” incident and that such attitudes reflect only that of “a small number of Singaporeans who don’t have the full appreciation or understand of the role of Filipinos there”.
But the more important question remains the elephant in the room politicians and mainstream commentators tiptoe around:
What is the source of this hate, and why does it seem to resonate amongst a big sector of Singapore society; big enough to shut down a major community event such as this year’s Independence Day commemoration there?
The most recent and, by far, most virulent sower of hate against Filipinos in Singapore involves a 24th May post in which the author encouraged his (or her) compatriots to “step on them, push or shove them” when boarding a train. Before that there was another blog published by a different author proposing that Filipinos be made to ride in separate buses owing to their being perceived as too loud and annoying.
This intolerance seems baffling considering that, by any measure, Singapore is one of the most racially-tolerant societies in a region where racism is often an institutionalised part of society and governance. Racial and religious harmony is regarded by the Singapore government as a crucial part of Singapore’s success, and played a part in building a Singaporean identity. But achieving and maintaining this harmony was (and continues to be) no easy task.
The 1964 race riots were a series of riots that took place in Singapore during two separate periods in July and September between Chinese and Malay groups. The first incident occurred on 21 July during a Malay procession marking the birthday of the Islamic prophet Muhammad. In total, the violence killed 36 people and injured another 556. About 3,000 people were arrested. At that time (1963–65), Singapore was a state in the Federation of Malaysia. In 1969, seven days of communal riots, a result of the spillover of riots also occuring in Malaysia, resulted in a final toll of 4 dead and 80 wounded. Singapore would not experience a major riot until 44 years later when the 2013 “Little India Riots” erupted on the 8th December 2013 after a fatal accident occurred at the junction of Race Course Road and Hampshire Road. About 300 migrant labourers from Tamil Nadu and Bangladesh were involved in the riot which lasted for around two hours.
Where do Filipinos figure in this scheme of things?
According to the records of the Commission on Filipinos Overseas, there are 180,000 Filipinos living and working in Singapore. The Philippine government’s stated position on this large presence is that these residents “remain an important part of the city-state economy”. That is, of course, seeing it at a macro-economic level. The way individual Singaporeans see that presence at a street level may tell a different story and may have deeper social implications separate from the economic numbers. And that is, perhaps, where the “debate” around root causes should be. As such, the Philippine government’s position on the matter may be incomplete, which means that an incomplete or, worse, a flawed solution to resolve this (if any such is actually being planned) may aggravate the problem further. The last thing we need, specially in times when the Philippines grows ever more dependent on foreign capital and employment for its survival, is for the proverbial elephant in the room to keep growing bigger.
[NB: Parts of this article were lifted from various Wikipedia.org articles related to Singapore in a manner compliant to the terms stipulated in the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License that governs usage of content made available in this site. Photo courtesy Pinoy-OFW.com.]
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