THE Foreign Affairs department’s statement on “the Passing of Singapore’s Founding Prime Minister” yesterday is terse but truthful.
“The Philippines joins the Singaporean people in mourning the passing of their first Prime Minister and Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew. Mr. Lee was a visionary statesman who built Singapore into an economic powerhouse and modern society that has been a positive force not only in the region but also in the world. His fortitude, political will and wisdom will continue to be an inspiration in the years to come.”
We in The Times are admirers of Lee Kuan Yew.
Many Filipinos like him because the effective but authoritarian Singapore government that he built was and by and large continues to be a temple of good governance manned by men and women of probity.
He served as prime minister of Singapore from June 3, 1959 to November 28, 1990 (more than 30 years), and then as senior minister of Singapore from November 28, 1990 to August 12, 2004 (almost four years) and finally as Minister Mentor of Singapore from August 12, 2004 to May 21, 2011 (almost six years). In his case, the phrase “serve as” does not mean “occupied the position of” as it does in the case of most Filipino public officials. It means working hard and effectively to achieve goals. And being a person of integrity.
He was friend of the Filipinos. He felt bad that we Filipino citizens and our political leaders could not make our country a better one than the mess we have been making it. Those who have been Singapore-watching since its creation as an independent state, by Lee Kuan Yew mainly, have seen how Lee and his fellow leaders wished the Philippines would rise to become a worthy partner of Singapore in together giving leadership to the Association of Southeast Asian Nations and the whole of Asia and grow as First World Nations.
When the Marcos regime fell, Lee Kuan Yew tried to counsel his friends–among the new leaders of the Philippines enjoying the return of democratic freedoms–that they should take the opportunity to pay less attention to democracy and attend more seriously to effective governance and development. The usual human rights activists, among our political leaders of the time and most of the leading lights of the Philippine press, attacked Singapore’s PM Lee for his sensible advice.
In the ’70s, Singapore was proving that it could surmount its difficulties of surviving as an independent country after being forced to leave the Malaysian Federation by the United Malays National Organization, whose leaders have ruled Malaysia since its formation. Lee resisted separation from Malaysia–and he cried when he gave the speech announcing the event– but he and Singapore were told to leave the Malaysian Federation because the Malay majority was uncomfortable with Singapore and its largely Chinese population upsetting the racial and power structure.
A number of British intellectuals and political savants, worried about the decline of their country under ineffective political leaders in the mid-70s, wrote of the need for the UK to have London School of Economics and Cambridge University educated Lee Kuan Yew to come to the rescue.
Lee’s People’s Action Party began as a member of Socialist International and gradually turned into a European-style welfare-state parliamentary republic.
It has definitely become a First World country not only in its infrastructure, domestic and international economic success and social development. Unfortunately–and this made Lee Kuan Yew tearful once more when he spoke about it–Singapore, like all the First World countries, suffers from an aging population. Its population is threatened with extinction because of the success of the government’s population-control policy. This policy was reversed about 10 years ago. But paying women to marry and get pregnant, and giving generous support to couples so they would not be afraid of having many children, have not been very effective.
That is why, among others from the poor countries of Asean, our OFWs are a major part of Singapore’s socio-economy.
Some Filipinos who admire Lee Kuan Yew and his successors dream of one day seeing someone like Modern Singapore’s founder in our politics.
In the present Philippines under de facto President BS Aquino and the Smartmatic-PCOS machines that dream is not likely to come true.