The island-nation of Singapore last month celebrated its 50th foundation anniversary. The occasion was marked with much fanfare despite the death of Lee Kuan Yew, the country’s founding Prime Minister, early this year.
Comparing the Philippines to Singapore has been a favorite topic among Filipino politicians and commentators. For example, Senator Bongbong Marcos said that had his father not been ousted in 1986, the country would be like Singapore now. For his part, Vice President Jejomar Binay claimed that Lee Kuan Yew served as his inspiration during his over two decades as Makati City Mayor.
It is also a common trope among those advocating for a shift to a parliamentary form of government. One recent article on the subject was written by “Ilda Pro” for the political website Get Real Philippines.
According to her, there are three things that are holding back the Philippines from becoming another Singapore:
Weak law enforcement and lack of discipline (“It seems there is this misguided notion among Filipinos that democracy means freedom to do whatever they want including breaking the law.”)
Patronage politics (“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.”)
Anti-intellectualism which discourages critical debate (“Some intellectuals would rather go with the flow than risk being shamed for using their heads.”)
It’s hard to argue against the points raised in the article. However, there are major differences between Philippines and Singapore that must be taken into account when comparing the two Southeast Asian countries. These are the following:
- It is much easier to manage a single island-state than a country with over 7,000 islands with people that are diverse in every way imaginable including in terms of culture, language, religion, among others. Now, are you still wondering why Filipinos seems to be very unwieldy?
- As mentioned earlier, Singapore, unlike the Philippines, has a parliamentary system of government led by a Prime Minister. To be more precise, the ruling People’s Action Party has been in power continuously since 1959.
- The same family, the Lees, have dominated Singapore’s political scene for 42 of the last 56 years. Lee Kuan Yew served as Prime Minister from 1959 to 1990 while his son Lee Hsien Loong has been holding the same position since 2004. Unlike Singaporeans, Filipinos doesn’t seem to be fond of continuity. Here, an outgoing president is seldom succeeded by someone from the same party. In fact, one common tactic for presidential candidates is to pledge to be the exact opposite of who he or she is trying to replace.
Look at the following examples: Roxas and Osmena in 1946, Quirino and Magsaysay in 1953, Macapagal and Marcos in 1965, Aquino and Marcos in 1986, Estrada and Ramos in 1998, and Aquino III and Macapagal-Arroyo in 2010. Hence, whenever a new president takes office, it’s as if we are starting over again from scratch.
- Singaporeans have limited civil liberties including freedom of speech and the right to assemble. Are Filipinos willing to endure that sacrifice?