The Filipino LKY | Inquirer Opinion
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The Filipino LKY

/ 12:05 AM December 19, 2016

I am very determined. If I decide something is worth doing, then I will put my heart and soul to it…. The whole ground may be against me, but if I know it is right, I’ll do it. That’s the business of the leader.”

Those words might well have been uttered by Rodrigo Duterte. They were actually uttered by Lee Kuan Yew, the man Singaporeans simply (although reverently) call “LKY.” The man almost single-handedly transformed Singapore from a strife-ridden backwater port into a modern economic powerhouse.


LKY built his small nation on two principles. The first concerns absolute obedience to the law. The second concerns efficient delivery of government services so that citizens trust those who govern and receive what they deserve.

In 1994, the first principle was put to the test. An American teenager named Michael Fay was caught vandalizing cars. The penalty for that was public caning. After the court ruled on the penalty for what might seem to be an ordinary act of adolescent irresponsibility, Lee ordered the teenager whipped. The whole world protested, calling the punishment a barbaric act and condemning the Singaporean government of tyranny. That did not deter Lee. The punishment was meted out.


Shortly after that incident, we will recall, a Filipino maid found guilty of murder was meted out the penalty of hanging. The Philippine government did its best to mitigate the sentence or delay the execution. Nothing deterred LKY. On the appointed day, Flor Contemplacion was hanged. Filipinos protested in the streets. LKY stood by the decision. The penalty of death by hanging will impress no one if execution becomes the subject of negotiations.

Singaporean law is tough. Drug-related offenses are punishable by death as they are in most other Southeast Asian countries. Death sentences are routinely carried out, a fact impressed upon drug dealers. This is why drug use is not as prevalent in countries like Singapore.

On the second principle of efficient government, LKY spent all his years in power stamping out corruption and building a bureaucracy that is the envy of the rest of the world. The Singaporean leader recruited the best and the brightest young Singaporeans into the public service. The bureaucracy was paid better than comparable private sector jobs. But any hint of irregularity was dealt with summarily and severely.

LKY ruled his island-nation with an iron fist. He did not take to international criticism lightly. When Western news magazines criticized his methods, he ordered their circulation in Singapore severely restricted. He saw the criticism as senseless carping that will get in the way of achieving his vision for all Singaporeans.

Tough as he was on all who erred, LKY was tougher on himself. He devoted his life working on his people. He lived simply and was never tainted with corruption. He personified the ethic he wanted all his people to abide by. He practiced what he preached. His people believed in him.

When Singapore gained independence, the city was mired in communal violence. Chinese, Malays and Indians distrusted each other. There were frequent riots in the streets. After a few years of decisive leadership, LKY convinced his people they were all equal citizens of Singapore, not embodiments of ethnic identity. Communal tensions evaporated.

Firm leadership and pragmatic economic policies made Singapore into what it is now: a nation among nations with the highest per capita incomes in the world. The law is obeyed. The leaders are trusted. Government delivers. Every Singaporean citizen takes his duties to heart.


Little wonder there is so much admiration for President Duterte in this island-nation. Filipinos in Singapore see him as the Filipino LKY, the man who will redeem his nation by enforcing the law and ending the strife.

Singapore’s government was only too willing to intensify cooperation with the Philippines, most especially in the effort to eradicate the drug problem. This is a nation that appreciates strong leadership.

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TAGS: Lee Kuan Yew, LKY, opinion, Rodrigo Duterte, Singapore
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