Lee Kuan Yew @ 88

A couple of days ago, Lee Kuan Yew, one of the longest serving political leader in the region celebrated his 88th birthday. I’ve long admired his work and how he lived his life. There are very few, if any, that can match what this statesman accomplished.

I haven’t fully read his memoirs (The Singapore Story) only picking chapters. I would need to take a long vacation to finish it! The two part series is the story of LKY’s life and his involvement on how the island state was founded.

LKY’s discipline as a politician is impressive. I like the story of him (along with another colleague) attending a meeting with Malayan leaders. It was more like a party with food and gambling going on. It must have been strange for him because he’s not used to that kind of politics. He takes his role as a representative of his country very seriously and felt that such things are unacceptable. He stayed on and tried to press some official business but as soon as young attractive girls started coming to please the mostly Malay politicians, he and his colleague walked out!

One of my favorite chapter in the book is Chapter 43, entitled “Talak, Talak, Talak”. If that sounds familiar, its because it is the Malay word for divorce or the act of splitting from the spouse. To us Filipinos, it means something different–in literal Tagalog, “you talk too much!”. You hear this from fighting couples all the time.

The chapter discussed the eventual split of Singapore from the Malay federation. Looking back, I’m sure they now see this as the greatest event that ever happened in their history as this failed union with UNMO catapulted them to achieve what many thought impossible to pull off.

I would like to write about LKY’s view of the Filipino politicians he dealt with during his time but first, I have to finish reading the voluminous memoir of this great man. Not a lot of people know that he offered Marcos refuge at the height of the Philippine crisis where Cory was eventually installed as president. He once said that the inability of Marcos to solve the crisis was because he was “the problem”.

Singapore is a great country, and a young one. The generation of today’s Singaporean must never forget about how Lee Kuan Yew and his generation labored it into existence. They must steer clear from dangerous influences coming from the outside. There’s a reason why Singapore succeeded – they must continue to follow  their founding fathers ideals – and for us Filipinos, the Singapore story must be a lesson.


One response to “Lee Kuan Yew @ 88

  • De AnDA

    * * *

    “In Bali in 1976, at the first Asean Summit held after the fall of Saigon, I found Marcos keen to push for greater economic cooperation in Asean. We agreed to implement a bilateral Philippine-Singapore across-the-board ten percent reduction of existing tariffs on all products and to promote intra-Asean trade. We also agreed to lay a Philippines-Singapore submarine cable. I was to discover that for him, the communiqué was the accomplishment itself; its implementation was secondary, an extra to be discussed at another conference.”

    * * *

    He relates how on one visit, Marcos took him on a tour of his library filled with volumes of newspapers as well as volumes on the history and culture of the Philippines. His campaign medals were displayed in glass cupboards. “He was the undisputed boss of all Filipinos. Imelda, his wife, had a penchant for luxury and opulence. When they visited Singapore before the Bali Summit, they came in style in two DC-8s, his and hers.”

    * * *

    Outrage over the Aquino assassination resulted in foreign banks stopping all loans to the Philippines which was in hock by over $25 billion and unable to pay the interest due. “He [Marcos] sent his minister for trade and industry, Bobby Ongpin, to ask me for a loan of $300-500 million to meet the interest payments. I looked him straight in the eye and said, ‘We will never see that money back.’ He added that ‘what was needed was a strong, healthy leader, not more loans.’”

    Later on in Brunei, Lee Kuan Yew would say the same thing to Marcos himself. “As soon as all our aides left, I went straight to the point that no bank was going to lend him any money. They wanted to know who was going to succeed him if anything were to happen to him… Singapore banks had lent $8 billion of the $25 billion owing. The hard fact was they were not likely to get repayment for some 20 years….he admitted that succession was the nub of the problem. If he could find a successor, there would be a solution. As I left, he said, ‘You are a true friend.’ I did not understand him. It was a strange meeting.”

    * * *

    He said we had many able people. There was no reason why the Philippines should not be as successful as other Asean countries. “Something was missing, a gel to hold society together. The people at the top, the elite mestizos, had the same detached attitude to the native peasants, as the mestizos in their haciendas in Latin America had towards their peons. They were two different societies; those at the top lived a life of extreme luxury and comfort, while the peasants scraped a living… they had many children because the Church discouraged birth control. The result was increasing poverty.”

    * * *

    Culture of the Filipino people.

    “The Philippines had a rambunctious press but it did not check corruption. Individual pressmen could be bought, as could many judges. Something had gone seriously wrong. Filipino professionals whom we recruited to work in Singapore are as good as our own. Indeed, their architects, artists, and musicians are more artistic and creative than ours…

    “The difference lies in the culture of the Filipino people. It is a soft, forgiving culture. Only in the Philippines could a leader like Ferdinand Marcos, who pillaged his country for over twenty years, still be considered for a national burial. Insignificant amounts of the loot have been recovered, yet his wife and children were allowed to return and engage in politics. They supported the winning presidential and congressional candidates with their considerable resources and reappeared in the political and social limelight after the 1998 election that returned President Joseph Estrada.”

    * * *

    His last line on the Philippines provided some answer to the problem: “Some Filipinos write and speak with passion. If they could get their elite to share their sentiments and act, what could they not have achieved?”

    —- “Reveille”
    Lee Kuan Yew on Philippines
    By: Ramon J. Farolan
    Philippine Daily Inquirer

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