Will Duterte make a Lee Kuan Yew?
Stories of Davao City and its successful management by the father-and-daughter tandem of Rodrigo and Sarah Duterte abound in social media. So, too, are inklings that a Duterte presidency might be the closest this country will ever have to a Lee Kuan Yew, Singapore’s long-serving prime minister who pushed that island nation from Third to First World status in just 25 years, between 1965 and 1990.
Now that Mr. Duterte has finally entered the presidential race (depending, of course, on the final decision of the Commission on Elections regarding his belated entrance), maybe it is time to really see whether Digong, as he is fondly called, has the wherewithal to be the country’s miracle or more specifically, our long-awaited Lee Kuan Yew.
Lee was a young Chinese politician in 1965 when Singapore, with its predominantly migrant Chinese population, was booted out of the Federation of Malaya. Tearful at this decision, the then young prime minister addressed his fellow citizens, urging them to persevere amidst the rejection and build one single nation founded on the mutual respect of three different peoples speaking three languages (Mandarin, Tamil, Malay) and enjoying their own cultural identities. By 1990, amidst 25 years of authoritarian rule, when a single monolithic party controlled the affairs of state, Singapore did just that. In 1990 or thereabouts, this experiment at progress and mutual coexistence had blossomed as Singapore basked in First World amenities.
Note that it took all of 25 years for Singapore to finally get the notice of the highly developed countries. And in all those years, there was virtually no opposition to one-man rule, despite the existence of a “debating” parliament whose members came from Lee’s own People’s Action Party.
Given these factors, will Digong be able to build a country many times the size of Singapore amidst a fractious multi-party system within a limited time of just six years?
The answer is maybe. For starters, there are certainly some things that Digong can do to copy the success he and his daughter carved into Davao City: traffic management, discipline and no-nonsense governance.
But minus the expletives and the threats of death and more coffins during his term, will the exuberant democracy we have now work to discipline people? If Digong does a Lee, literally, by going out of Malacañang every Tuesday together with his cabinet members, broom in hand, to clean even just the perimeters of the presidential palace, will the millions of mad-mannered, dirt craving, undisciplined masses follow suit? More importantly, will our perennially complaining populace accept a sudden increase in traffic fines from the hundreds to the thousands of pesos?
Those are just the most basic things Lee did in the 1970s that began the sweeping modernization of Singapore: discipline and order by example. And in between raising fines for all kinds of bad behavior, not just on the road, but virtually everywhere except in the privacy of one’s home. But he did not stop there. He instituted massive reforms in the bureaucracy, erected high-rise public housing for the poor, developed massive underground and aboveground road and rail networks and most importantly, prevented any opposition from crying out loud against every painful sacrifice that had to be made on the road to economic redemption.
One realizes that it will take many more Digongs complete with his expletives and threats to punch and kick, or even shoot, people who misbehave. The Filipino, influenced by American colonial rule, tasted freedom to the point that he or she thinks he has every right to enjoy it for free. This is both a strength and an albatross that has tied this country down.
Worse, we went under an authoritarian rule (nearly two decades under Ferdinand Marcos) just as Singapore, South Korea and Indonesia were going through theirs. And where has that brought us vis-à-vis them?
And so while I share with everyone the marvel at what a Duterte presidency might do, it will be futile to compare him to Lee Kuan Yew or to imagine that at the end of his six-year term—assuming he wins the presidency—in 2022, we shall have joined Singapore as a First World country.
Nevertheless, I agree that the people of Visayas and Mindanao deserve a president from their ranks. But is Digong the one we’ve all been waiting for? Your guess is as good as mine.
A Blessed Christmas to you all!
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“The War in Cebu” photo exhibition and book selling continues at the Ayala Center Cebu, between Assics and Sperry Topsider boutiques, at the second floor of the new wing (also called Phase 2b). Our book, co-authored by Dr. Resil Mojares, Bobit Avila, Col. Dave Taylor (Ret.) and David Colamaria, is still being sold there at a discounted price until January 4.
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