Rest in peace Mr Lee Kuan Yew.
LKY represents everything latter-day Filipino politicians are not. He had a vision for Singapore and the courage to break ground where lesser folk beholden to the popular sentiment feared to tread. The country LKY built is a stark in-your-face reminder that just about every “contributing factor” Filipinos, their leaders, and their so-called “intellectuals” cite to excuse the chronic failure of their society to achieve and prosper are but sad words coming from a sad people.
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While the Philippines stood out as America’s “democracy” pin-up girl in the 1950s, Singapore was an outcast. Shunned by the Malay Federation, menaced by Indonesia, and abandoned by the British Empire, LKY took leadership of a state that had very reasonable excuses to curl up on the floor and fail. It had none of the essential natural resources needed to industrialise, was wracked by internal ethnic strife, and lacked an identity beyond its former status as a Malay Federation state.
Filipinos like to think that freedom is a pre-requisite for prosperity. LKY’s Singapore disproved that long before it was even turned into a brand by Filipino activists. LKY ran Singapore with an iron fist. There was no “revolution” to break that tight grip. The only revolutionary thing that happened in Singapore was economic. Whereas Filipinos celebrate a political “revolution”, Singapore quietly achieved an economic one.
Indeed, the best revenge is success. Singapore now dominates the region. The economic output of one Singaporean dwarfs that of a Filipino and his family of eight by a factor of ten. To the Philippines’ ability to “secure” an outlying territory by beaching a World War II era ship, Singapore, a country of just several million, can project hundreds of times the firepower many miles beyond its territory. It also keeps a significant chunk of the Philippines’ work force employed.
What can Filipinos learn from LKY and Singapore?
A lot. Trouble is, they refuse to. One thing’s for sure, democracy certainly cannot be counted as one of LKY’s most favourite things. Yet Filipinos regard their hoplessly chaotic brand of demo-crazy as their country’s crowning “achievement”. To this day, the Philippines’ legions of has-been celebrity “activists” and discredited “intellectuals” continue to sing hymns about by-gone “champions” of “freedom” and lead their flock lighting candles before monuments to their world-renowned voodoo politics. In contrast to the stoic way Singaporeans and their leaders faced the challenges ahead of them, Filipinos routinely wail and rant about the imaginary “anti-progress” bogeymen their revered demagogues put up to demonise giving them big English names that, ironically, defy translation into the vernacular: Corruption, Cronyism, Nepotism, Imperialism, blah blah blah.
You’d think the solution to “solving” Philippine poverty is to “elminate” those “evils” of society. Yet the very leaders Filipino voters foolishly entrust to do just that are, themselves, the sources and embodiments of those “evils”. Indeed, for most Filipino politicians, corruption, cronyism, nepotism, and imperialism are entire ways of life!
What exactly has democracy and the much-touted “freedom” its adherents enjoy delivered to Filipinos? Perhaps Filipinos uphold a misguided notion of what it means to be free. If “freedom” to Filipinos has come to mean being free to elect idiots to top leadership positions, being free to flood an entire consumer market with useless trinkets made in China, and free to feed trashy media products to an already ignorant star-struck population, it is likely that a radical re-evaluation of that notion is overdue. LKY did not pretend to be a big fan of that sort of freedom to gain the global respect he now commands and to build a society every Third World government aspires to build. As such, he is often criticised for his “autocratic” ways.
No. LKY’s Singapore offers a readily-evident freedom that is ironically alien to apologists of failed democracies such as that of the Philippines’.
Yes, Lee Kuan Yew was not a paragon of the kind of democracy that throws up populist political leaders. Yes, his acerbic remarks would never have won a TV debate or an election in the U.S. But he was not one of the self-serving, corrupt dictators that developing countries produce so often. It would be folly to deny him his due credit for building a nation regularly listed as the world’s best place to live.
Spoken like a true Singaporean. LKY would’ve been proud.
benign0 is the Webmaster of GetRealPhilippines.com.