Lee Kuan Yew of PH? Filipinos in Singapore weigh in on Duterte
SINGAPORE – President Rodrigo Duterte has been labeled in many ways – from Dirty Harry of the South to Donald Trump of the East. But many of his supporters call him something else, Lee Kuan Yew of the Philippines.
From December 15 to 16, Duterte will visit Singapore, the country of which Lee is considered the founding father. (WATCH: Duterte visit to muster biggest crowd of Filipinos in Singapore)
Here, the late Lee is a giant figure and is widely credited for raising his country from third world to first world status, even as he is criticized for his authoritarian ways and little patience for dissenting voices.
I asked some Filipinos in Singapore what they think of comparisons between Duterte and Lee. The Philippines’ envoy to Singapore, Ambassador Antonio Morales, thinks both men are known for “strong and firm leadership” and constant touting of the law, both being lawyers.
He also noted how both Duterte and Lee strove to create peace and stability despite the diversity of cultures and religions in their areas of influence. Singapore’s population is a mix of Chinese, Malays, and Indians while Davao City, where Duterte was mayor for two decades, has a population of Catholics, Muslims, and indigenous peoples.
Filipinos I spoke with in Lucky Plaza, a favorite hangout of Filipinos, think that like Lee, Duterte appears to be a hardliner on crime.
“I like his view on law, unlike before when there was a lot of corruption, the police themselves were selling shabu. Not like now, you won’t find any of that here in Singapore. It’s so strict here. When someone is caught with shabu, they are really hanged, they have no chance, no trial, no questions asked,” said Alejandro Angeles, a souvenir vendor.
Yoni Ferrera, another vendor, said Duterte has been able to enforce discipline among abusive government personnel, like those in airports. Ferrera has lived in Singapore for the past 30 years but still goes back to the Philippines every now and then.
“When I go home now, I’m not scared. Unlike before, my customers would say, ‘There is a bullet-planting scam.’ I say, ‘That’s gone because Duterte is in power now,’” she said.
But Abigail Ubalde, a domestic helper, is reserving her judgment.
“For me, it’s too early right? We are getting there but I don’t totally agree that he is already on the level of Lee Kuan Yew because of course, it hasn’t been 6 months yet, maybe 3 or 4 months right?” she said, as she and her friend finished a bowl of bulalo in Lucky Plaza’s food court.
'Laughably inappropriate' comparison?
If Lee and Duterte share some qualities, in what ways do they differ?
An opinion column in Singapore newspaper The Straits Times, written by associate editor Ravi Velloor, said the Duterte-Lee analogy is "laughably inappropriate."
For one thing, though Lee was tough on crime, he “was not a man to have a person's life taken away without absolute attention to due process.”
Duterte has been accused of, at the very least, encouraging summary executions of criminals, especially drug pushers and drug lords.
The two leaders are also different in the way they speak. Both were charismatic speakers in their own ways and had a way with metaphors, but if Lee was precise with language and meticulous with logic, Duterte’s speeches are often meandering, peppered with as many contradictions as expletives.
Differences and similarities notwithstanding, Duterte has huge support from Filipinos in Lee’s country. According to Ambassador Morales, Duterte garnered 80% of all OFW votes here during the last elections.
That’s saying something because Singapore has the second biggest OFW population in Asia, after Hong Kong. Morales thinks it’s likely among the 8 countries in the world with the largest number of OFWs.
Duterte's visit here has been long awaited, added the ambassador. Around 7,000 Filipinos registered to attend the President's OFW event on Friday. Morales said this will be the biggest gathering of Filipinos ever in Singapore. – Rappler.com