3 things holding the Philippines back from becoming another Singapore


As Singapore celebrated its 50th year of independence, one cannot help but reflect on what could have been for our own country, the Philippines. After all, Singapore and the Philippines started as equals back in the 1960s. Records even suggests that the Philippines was the most developed country in the region during that time due to America’s assistance in recovery after the second world war. But alas, the Philippines has been left in the dust by the rest of its neighbors as each country learned to evolve through the times.

Intelligent and efficient Singapore: The country the Philippines could have been.
Intelligent and efficient Singapore: The country the Philippines could have been.
Similar to a marathon runner ahead in the race but who stumbled and suffered a spectacular fall, it has been hard for the Philippines to pick herself up. It’s become even more difficult after the country fell in the hands of the oligarchs who replaced former President Ferdinand Marcos after his ouster in 1986. Meanwhile, from what was described as a formerly sleepy port, Singapore had grown to become a global finance and trade hub. The legacy of Singapore’s founder former Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew continues to guide the country’s multicultural society even after his death.

Some say it is not fair to compare Singapore to the Philippines because Singapore is smaller. The country is just 716 square kilometers, just a little bigger than Metro Manila. But like with most things, it’s not the size of something that matters but what you do with it that counts. Singaporeans obviously did a lot with their space in spite of the scarce resources within it. Just to give you an idea of what they had to deal with, the country had been relying on imported water from Malaysia for most of its water needs. In recent years, “the city-state has made its gutters, drains and rivulets a vast basin to catch rainfall” in addition to increasing the size of its water catchment areas just to ease their dependence on Malaysia. It is evident that instead of holding them back, lack of resources has certainly made Singaporeans become more resourceful.

Accommodating Singapore’s booming population seems like a welcome challenge for them as well. To manage the country’s growth, which is projected to reach six million people in the next two decades, the Singapore government has teamed up with experts from the “Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) to devise ways to manage its expansion — knowledge it plans to export to other cities.” The whole point is “to study how cities work and how they can work better.” Those who have been to Singapore will know how efficient things are run in the country.

If only the Philippines can learn from Singapore and apply these to the task of managing its people and resources, the country can also join the rest of its neighbors at the finish line. Despite the Philippines’ vast resources and abundant talent pool, the country cannot seem to get its act together. Let us look at the reasons why:

1. Weak law enforcement leads to lack of discipline.

Lee Kuan Yew’s advice was: Filipinos need to develop discipline more than democracy. He was right. Democracy only works when the majority are informed and educated. That’s not the case in the Philippines. It seems there is this misguided notion among Filipinos that democracy means freedom to do whatever they want including breaking the law.

The reason why Filipinos lack discipline is because law enforcement agencies including the police and justice department do not or cannot do their jobs properly. To help them with their jobs, they have to realize that they are dealing with mostly ignorant and arrogant people so they need to apply zero tolerance and effect strict enforcement of the law. Otherwise, the people will not learn to obey the rules. Perhaps it would be best if members of the Philippine law enforcement agencies treat the populace like children who need guidance. That’s how it’s done in Singapore until now anyway. No chewing gum, anyone?

Everyday there is chaos on major roads in the Philippines due to lack of discipline. One wonders what the traffic enforcers are doing to fix the problem. Nothing, it seems. Every day there is someone throwing garbage in the river and someone building a new shack illegally on private and public lands. One wonders what the police and local government agencies are doing to nip the problem in the bud. These are just some of the violations that are tolerated in the country. Some say this is so because politicians patronize the masses to get their votes. Which brings us to the next item.

2. Patronage politics has perverted democracy.

It’s also called padrino system. This is the reason why law enforcement is weak in the Philippines. The law is not applied equally to everyone. This is evident in the way incumbent public servants use selective justice in prosecuting criminals. This is why a lot of people think it’s okay to do the crime. If you need further convincing, just look at how President BS Aquino treats his allies. When people see others get away with violating the law just by being friends with those in power or by bribing those in power, their natural tendency is to emulate or copy what they see. A lot of the elite members of Philippine society do this to get away with violating the law. Those from the lower class just copy the behavior of those from the upper class.

Mismanagement and mediocrity ruined the Philippines.
Mismanagement and mediocrity ruined the Philippines.
This is precisely the reason why it is best to first ask the elite members of Philippine society to change instead of asking or expecting the masses to change.

As long as patronage politics is strong in the Philippines, the country will not progress. You can even see patronage politics on the road. The buses that block the road on EDSA and cause major traffic jams are operated by the elites and, unfortunately, these bus operators are not doing anything to discipline their drivers and neither are the traffic enforcers doing anything drastic since they more than likely get a cut from the bus operators.

3. Anti-intellectual attitudes discourage critical debate.

An anti-intellectual attitude in the Philippines is a problem that has plagued the country since the mid 1980s. The problem started when Filipinos allowed a “reluctant” housewife with no expertise in running a government to become the President of the Republic. Instead of promoting excellence, former President Cory Aquino promoted mediocrity. The society also became increasingly emotional and vindictive.

One just needs to look at the current crop of public servants today and one will realize why the country is run like hell. Instead of voting for experts and professionals or at least someone with more experience and vision, Filipinos love putting a lot of celebrities and popular personalities and their relatives in powerful positions in government.

It seems as though Filipinos are allergic to people who have knowledge and expertise in solving the country’s problems so they would rather go for someone who they can relate with even when nothing is being done to solve the country’s woes. No wonder the country’s public transport system is almost in ruin.

It’s only in the Philippines where intellectuals are ostracised. When you explain something that is deemed too complicated for the average person, they will simply dismiss you with “eh di wow!” or similar exasperated expressions in a condescending manner. It is the reason why some intellectuals would rather go with the flow than risk being shamed for using their heads.

As long as intellectuals and experts are not in charge of the Philippines, the country will not reach the same status as Singapore.

The above reasons are what is holding the Philippines back from reaching First World status. They all pertain to Filipino cultural traits. There are some who would say that the country’s flawed system is what’s holding the country back and suggest that perhaps a parliamentary form of government will help foster intellectual discourse. However, the system is only as good as the people. There is very little chance a good system will be designed by a society that is lacking in discipline, is anti-intellectual, and is imprisoned by patronage politics. Sadly, such a society is guaranteed to either remain stagnant or become worse in the decades to come.