Filipinos can only keep romanticizing about what Singapore has succeeded at DOING


The year 2015 was both a significant marker in the history of our Southeast Asian neighbor Singapore. It was the year of both the fiftieth anniversary of its founding as a nation (August 9), and the year Lee Kuan Yew (LKY), widely considered its founding father, died (March 23).

Therefore, starting this year, 2016, Singapore is now on what is, hopefully, its next half-century and beyond of continuing prosperity and uninterrupted status as a developed nation.

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In 2015, the book If the Philippines had a Lee Kuan Yew , by Jose Leviste Jr., came out. It is a collection of articles and discourses, about Singapore and LKY, from, as written, “some of the brightest in our country, the literati of our nation.” Among the writers are familiar names like Carmen Pedrosa, Maria Ressa, Teddy Locsin Jr., Boo Chanco, Randy David, Ramon Farolan, etc.

A lot of them are journalists. Think about that for a second…

Leviste, in his prologue, cites his principal goal in the book as, “to initiate a discussion and a debate over the right way to lead and move forward a people in an archipelagic nation like the Philippines…”. I have read the book and hoped to find some new insight into what made Singapore so successful. My take-away from it instead was the following:

Filipinos’ supposedly brightest literati have little to no new insight whatsoever to add to what is already known about Singapore.

The overarching mood of the book is that the articles and discourses are generally retrospective in nature. Instead, the “what if” mind exercise that was supposed to be stimulated by the book has merely resulted in redundant information.

A fruitful and relevant discussion on what the Philippines needs to improve must necessarily begin with acknowledgement and acceptance of its current situation; the Philippines’ wretchedness is not only in plain sight, it runs deep from our institutions, to the very core of our culture as a people. A good discussion, at the risk of oversimplifying things, is basically a gap analysis. You define a current state (state A), how things are, and then you define a future state (state B), how things should be. Finally one defines all that is needed to get from state A to state B: processes, people, policies, things that need to be changed, etc.

Leviste, the author, repeatedly emphasizes LKY’s “strong, competent, disciplined, decisive, and principled leadership”. Unfortunately, the actions that underlay his leadership, done in the Philippine setting, will get one branded a despot or a dictator, perhaps even a fascist (the correct use of this word is another matter).

At its core, LKY’s leadership is simply an iron fist. The equivalent term in the Philippine setting is kamay na bakal, complete with any unpleasant implications. Yet it is also one that is tempered with vision, foresight, attention to detail, and pragmatism – things that are all regarded with disdain by an emo people. It pays to remember that LKY was a staunch critic of two things that Filipinos hold dear but pervert: democracy, and freedom of the press.

It remains an unresolved inconsistency, especially among our “elite”, that while they continue romanticizing about and admiring what LKY has done in his own country, they would also demonize and shun anyone who adopts such qualities and adapts them to the local setting. It also remains an issue that potentially beneficial foreign ideas and influences are continuously misapplied here.

A lot of the contributors to the book are from the media, considered to be among the “thought leaders” and “opinion shapers” in the Philippines. As more and more people are starting to realize, however, corporate media has failed the people and are part of the problem. These are the very same people who will always quote what LKY said about the Marcoses, and yet continue to ignore and disregard what he said about the Philippine press.

The issue that the local media faces is merely indicative of one that is found in the overall Filipino society: an inability to reflect on, much less accept, its flaws. Filipino creativity and imagination, while praised by LKY through those who came to Singapore to work, have not been able to find their way into imagining what a future Philippines is supposed to be; Filipinos are stuck at decrying what it never must be again. Perhaps, most crippling of all, is the Filipinos’ inability to accept, prepare for, and manage change.

The future, along with its uncertainty, is an uncomfortable topic. Those who thrive are the ones who embrace uncertainty and are flexible and adaptable to changing circumstances. Those who fall behind are the ones who cling to the past to define their future.

It is up to Filipinos to decide which one they want to be. Until then, they can only gawk at their prosperous neighbor with wide-eyed glee, and wait for the guava that may never fall from the tree.

[Photo courtesy: Almighty E-Biz]

21 Replies to “Filipinos can only keep romanticizing about what Singapore has succeeded at DOING”

  1. Great article, great analysis.

    A few years ago, I stated here that I had pinned my hopes on OFWs (and all those Filipinos who leave their motherland for other reasons) who work in western countries but then I got hit in the face – if I am not mistaken – by Ilda who responded that OFWs cling together without really adopting the ‘culture’ of that western country. So by the time those OFWs return back home nothing changes/changed at home soil.

  2. I don’t agree with every aspect of Singapore’s system; however, they have proven that strict law-enforcement deters crime. When you institute strict penalties for bad behavior, criminals are less likely to commit crime. The American 19 year old who was caned and imprisoned in Singapore learned his lesson. The punk stole road signs and vandalized. He showed no respect so he learned the hard way that he better grow up and not do it again. There would be significant amounts of vandalism there is they were soft, and made excuses for it.

  3. Letme guess: that book has nothing about culture, does it? No admission that there’s something wrong with our culture and practices, that we have to admit we’re wrong, that we should fix our flaws. etc.? That Singaporean culture, when faced with an Iron-Fist leadership, tends to comply, but when Filipinos are faced with the same, they call it abusive, harsh, Martial Law, etc. Enter the usual observation about Filipinos: rules are suggestionas to them. In that alone, if Filipnos change their ways, a huge chunk of our problems would be solved.

  4. Singapore is a small country compared to the Philippines. However, it is ten times more prosperous.

    We have many problems to contend with; we have an entrenched Feudal Oligarchy…Our country is still with Feudalism. The Spanish colonizers are gone , for many centuries. However, this land ownership system, they imposed on us , is still with us.

    We have Patronage Politics; with self serving politicians, who will change party; whoever is in power. Political opportunism thrives in our political system…

    We have widespread corruption; with dysfunctional justice system.

    OFWs earnings float the Philippine economy…

    Now , we became a NARCO Politics country. Drug Lords; illegal Drug Traffickers; Chinese Triad Drug Mafia crime syndicate; Drug Pushers; etc… are tremendous problems in our country.

    The problems of our country are numerous…however, problems can be solved with good visionary leadership !

    If the country, its leaders and its people, would desire to change for the better…the country will change for the better…it is a united effort !

    Lee Kuan Yew, was a visionary leader of Singapore. This is the reason, Singapore is a successful country!

    As the Christian Bible has stated: “Without Vision from the leaders; the people will perish”…

  5. Singapore works because it had been blessed with a founder who was honest to the core, but who had vision and integrity, and worked for a harmonious disciplined and combined effort of all the different ethnic groups in his community.
    If we have enough humility, perhaps we can learn something from Singapore and apply it here.
    It is never too late to learn.

  6. Singapore has one of the highest suicide rates and highest depression rates in the world.

    There is just pod people there. On the surface you mght think they are all happy but most are nog.
    Stress and stress related illness is at an all time high and the country is a complete police state which is very corrupt.

    Singapore founder honest to the core?
    No he was a monster that believed singapore had to succeed no matter the cost( to its people).

    1. So keep the Philippines the way it and listen to TheVoiceofReason. He has all the answers to get the country to where it needs to go: nowhere.

      Might as well watch that 1993 movie, “GroundHog Day,” starring Bill Murray and Andie Macdowell, about “a situation in which a series of unwelcome or tedious events appear to be recurring in exactly the same way.”

        1. marius,

          It’s a fresh start for everyone with this new administration. Let’s all hope Duterte fights the good fight, and never let up, to rid the country of all its assholes. Take Care.


    2. Maybe they’re just better at following through on their promises? I hear about emo “adult” Filipinos threatening to kill themselves all the time for stupid reasons, even if they’d be leaving children behind, but they never go through with it.

  7. Its true, The Failippines is fucked. It can not even hope to aspire to what Singapore has become(Listen, don’t get me wrong, Singapore is not that big a deal), it would take 50 years if Filipino’s started RIGHT NOW, but they won’t. AND SURELY it is no one’s fault but the thieving scumbags that run the Failippines. Think of all the money that has been stolen since 1948 and what it could have done for the country, yes? it is an outrage and the people should put an end to the biggest criminal syndicate in S E Asia. Filipino’s could do it too. It would take less than a week to get rid of the guilty scumbags. LESS THAN A WEEK, as everyone knows who they are, and what they have done.BUT THEY WON’T.TOO BAD, it would be easy.

  8. To change Pinoy culture, you need kamay na bakal. Once Pinoys get used to being prohibited from peeing on the streets, it will become second nature to them – after 2 generations.

    Thailand has now embraced military rule by adopting a new constitution:

    Im Jeepetch, 18, a first-time voter, admitted she didn’t know much about the draft constitution but voted “yes” because she feels that Bangkok has become more orderly and peaceful since the military came to power.

    1. Yup, every Filipino needs to be lined up on the side of the road and whipped, in order to change our fucked up ways. We’re such a proud and selfish motherfuckers.

    2. I’m not sure about the whipping bit, but research so far suggests that the risk of actually getting caught is what stops people from misbehaving. There needs to be SOME sort of punishment, but beyond a certain point it doesn’t make a whole lot of difference what the punishment IS.

      Filipinos know that they can do absolutely anything they want and there are NO consequences, at all, ever. Have you ever even seen a policeman out in the provinces? Have you ever tried to get the tanod to deal with criminal behaviour? Anyone who wishes to abuse his neighbor knows that all he has to do is should louder than everyone else, threaten to use his connections, or threaten dire repercussions on the accuser, and all his problems will go away. In that environment, the (relatively few) people who want to make life miserable for everyone else will thrive and prosper.

    3. It’s the CERTAINTY of punishment that counts.

      Filipinos will break laws without fear because punishment is but a minute probability. This is like Parenting 101.

      The sting of capital punishment as a deterrent against crime can only be achieved by swift implementation and removing any hope of a stay or pardon. Cruel but effective. If this cannot be assured, rather not pursue it.

      1. Exactly zaxx – swift and certain. It need not necessarily be cruel, but unless Filipinos are held accountable for the bad things they do, every single time they do them, they have no reason to change.

        1. You’re such a marksman marius, I can tell you’re a GRP author yourself (

          A dash of healthy fear into the equation can actually make a world of difference in this country.

          Now traffic enforcement in central Makati is actually quite respectable: i.e., swift and certain. The police officer in fact acts as judge, jury and executioner when apprehending a motorist for a violation. The officer metes out a verdict and punishment ON THE SPOT, with NO witnesses or courtrooms needed and NO questions asked (talk about an unquestioned extra-judicial process; who’s crying “due process” now?).

          This is the type of INSTANT justice that should be adopted across the board in PH to redeem/save its overloaded penal system.

          But here’s the catch: We’ll need incorruptible cops that cannot be bribed, and who’s clarity of judgment is unparalleled. A PMA-like institution to create this new breed of super-cops could do the trick.

  9. Leaders do not play a “what if game”. They believe it will be and work it to be! Success is scarce because fear is common.

  10. Interesting article, it reminds about someone who says that there are 2 kinds of people. People who build a future for themselves while others are trying to rebuild the past.

    People have a choice but should never forget that the whole world moves on with or without them.

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