The Philippines As Singapore?

 Filipinos, with the exception of our politicians and crooks, aspire to be like Singapore.

Many say it is not possible.

It has nothing to do with our intelligence or capacity for work. Singapore is manned by Filipino nurses, retail staff, maids and croupiers so we can do it. It is just the other things.

Like discipline.

 Sociologists attribute Singaporean discipline -they line up everywhere- to the Confucian ethic while forgetting that the country is a mix of  Malay Muslims, Hindu Indians and Chinese (and now Catholic Filipinos). Others say it is inherited from British rule and the playing fields of Eton.

 Singaporean discipline has much to do, I believe, with the army, specifically the requirement that all young males undergo military service. Forced conscription is the great equalizer. The sons of the wealthy and the politicians are forced into the same conditions as the poor. Switzerland, S. Korea, Israel, Austria, Norway, and Taiwan -disciplined societies all-have a draft so there must be something to this. If the Philippines wants to emulate these countries, it should consider compulsory military service or some form of community work for our young.

The other great equalizers are education and income distribution. In Singapore any qualified student is assured of higher education regardless of income.  Money is forcibly taken from a parents’ contribution to the Central Provident Fund (the equivalent of our GSIS/SSS) to support their child’s university education. However, once the child is working and paying into the Fund, the latter deducts from this to repay the parents.

Singapore believes building a strong middle class is the key to social harmony and stability. This means controlling the disparity in incomes through the social welfare net.

Then there is the bureaucracy. Singapore works because its civil service works. The Government attracts the best and the brightest to run the country and pays them accordingly.  Senior officials earn private sector salaries which can be upto SGD $2 million a year. With the worldwide financial crisis, these officials recently voluntarily reduced their pay as part of the burden sharing.

The bureaucracy also works because public service is portrayed as an honorable profession. Even the lowliest Government employee is treated with respect. In Singapore, bus drivers are not called bus drivers, they are bus captains. So Lesson #2, we need to bring back honor to public service if we are to attract and retain capable civil servants.

In exchange, Government leaders are subject to intense public accountability. A recent headline in the Straits Times was about a second tier official caught  padding his expenses. In other countries this would have qualified as a two-liner in the back pages of the papers. In Singapore it was a big deal.

Private citizens are equally accountable. In Singapore criminals actually go to jail.

Singapore uses the best of authoritarian and free market models to run the economy. Private enterprise is encouraged but this is guided by central directives to temper the abuses of capitalism. The State uses its financial muscle like the Central Provident Fund to finance key economic activities and social priorities.

Market forces are at work in all levels of daily life. To decongest traffic, taxis impose a surcharge during rush hours. The Government is considering lowering public transport fares during off peak hours. At the same time, the number of private vehicles is controlled by restricting the supply of so-called Certificates of Entitlement (COEs) to own a car. COE prices are determined by economic forces, fetching as high as SGD 90,000 (around P3 million) for luxury vehicles.

Sometimes Singaporean policies work too well. For a time the country encouraged  family planning. This has however become a problem because of the ageing of the population so the Government is now reversing itself.

The modest size of Singapore (population: 5.1 million) has been cited to explain its progress. Yet there are smaller countries in the region  (e.g. Brunei) with vaster resources who have not achieved its economic status. Singapore has no natural advantages and was forced to contend with cross-cultural and racial differences. Yet it succeeded because of enlightened Government, accountability, and vision.

In Singapore our countrymen are respected for their ethic and their skills. They are part of what makes the system work. So let us not say the Singapore model is impossible in the Philippines.

Singapore’s parliamentary system allows for a centralized authority to get things done. With its public mandate and control of Congress, the Aquino Administration now has such a monolithic power to effect meaningful reforms. What we need is simply the vision, the commitment and the leadership to make it happen.


About Leo Alejandrino

The blog is principally a commentary on Philippine politics and economics.
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16 Responses to The Philippines As Singapore?

  1. Eduardo Cu Unjieng says:

    Well said, Leo.

  2. mike delos reyes says:

    You’d have to take into account that their system of government, which is essentially an authoritarian system, makes all of this possible. It would be near-impossible for a Singapore-style rule here without people crying dictatorship. Forced conscription? You’d have the CBCP and militant groups screaming human rights violations on the streets.

    • nagib says:

      all these cries for “human rights” are really criminals hoping to get better treatment if they are caught in Singapore. if they do the crime, there is no mercy in Singapore. death or caning will be meted to these serious criminals. human rights groups are just arm-chair idealist who never lived poor.

  3. nagib says:

    Actually, Filipinos are doing really well in Singapore. They used to be stereotyped (if you met them on the streets) as domestic worker if female or seaman if male. But now they worked as nurses, factory technicians, retail outlets salesperson, fast food chain assistant managers, call center service officers, childcare specialists, ….. and for those well-educated, university lecturers and research scientists. The better educated used to go off to UK or US, but now many have settled in Singapore with well-paying jobs, although sometimes still being mistaken for domestic worker or seaman. But that doesn’t take away the recognition of their hardwork and good attitude. Singaporeans’ majority population is ethnic Chinese but has been having difficulties accepting recent immigrants from mainland China, because of the perceived poor character and manners. But Singaporeans generally welcomed Filipinos in all areas, and only the very few will look down on Filipinos as domestic workers. Soon we could see Doctors and Lawyers and CEOs that are Filipinos living in Singapore. Very proud.

  4. MIchael Jordan says:

    Ha ha. Don’t try to kiss ass Singapore too much because these arrogant fools think that Filipinos are trash. I only want their money. Everything else, the Filipino can do better

  5. J. Estrada says:

    It’s nice to aspire to be Singapore! It could be done! As long as the Filipino People have the will power! That’s the key! Most Filipinos does not have the will power to change for the betterment of the Country! If we all follow the rules and really take out the crooks then we could do it! We sometimes just give up and just wish but no action done! We keep on complaining but never do the work!

  6. wmaster says:

    It is possible. Just declare Cebu a separate Republic, control migration, and allow only the Chinese traders of the Visayas and Mindanao to become new citizens. Then overnight you will have a prosperous population of only 2 million with businesses all over the neighbouring islands. Cebu becomes the regional capital center of the area. Per capita income rises dramatically overnight, social burden decreases, local taxes are spent locally, politics becomes simpler, and the bureaucracy becomes more manageable. Same thing you can do with Makati City if you declared it a separate Republic and fenced it in.

  7. Menchu says:

    I’ve always admired the Singaporeans for their love of country, discipline, and respect for authority. If only we could emulate them even a little, for a start at least!

  8. Isn’t Singapore an oligarchy?

    Yes I think Singapore a nice place but remember you can’t dismiss the country as perfect. Each country has its own kinks.

  9. simple! change the government systems! i live here in sg, ginawa na ni marcos yan! marcos government leadership was the blue print of singapore! idol ni prime minister lee si marcos ginaya nya ang pamamalakad ni marcos! and who benefited from this? look where singapore now on top! where is philippines? ayaw nyo ng dictatorship and discipline! here in sg disiplinado mga tao! kasi takot sa gobyerno!

  10. Kung gusto gayahin ang Singapore, simulan na ngayun. Magandang simula yung pagiging open s public. Less corruption, pero mas mganda kung mapabilis ang trial s mga gumagawa ng kabalastugan at ng hindi pamarisan. Minsan, kung iisipin parang may mali sa sistema ng ating hustisya maging sa sistema kung paano tayo magbago ng batas. Napakatagal n proseso. Mali din kaya ang interpretasyon natin s salitang demokrasya??

  11. Facile1 says:

    Singapore’s medium of instruction in its Public School system is English. Its laws are based on English common law and are written in English. The Philippines can be like Singapore if its Public School system returns to the pre-war policy of limiting the medium of instruction to the English language. This will also ensure that each Filipino citizen has equal access to the nation’s laws — which are written in English.

    Filipinos do not lack discipline. They are kept ignorant by their government, which has always been run by a privileged few. After all, knowledge is power. And the best way to raise barriers to equal access to the LAW as well as equal access to better paying jobs is to limit who can speak the global language of government and business — which is English!

    Until such time when all Filipinos speak the same language, one cannot hope that all the diverse peoples of the Philippines will share in a common vision or be joined in the single-mindedness of purpose necessary for nation building.

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