Singapore compared to the Philippines | Inquirer Opinion
Social Climate

Singapore compared to the Philippines

/ 01:43 AM March 28, 2015

When examining another country, it is quite normal to take one’s own country in context. What is it like in Singapore (Sg), compared to the Philippines (Ph)? How are the two countries rated by objective observers? How do Singaporeans look at their situation, and how do we Filipinos look at ours?

Objective indicators of wellbeing. The standard approach, commonly used by international development organizations, is to look into objective indicators of each country’s state of health, education and income. In such matters, Singapore outclasses the Philippines across the board.


For persons born in 2013, the average life expectancy is 82.3 years in Sg, versus 68.7 years in Ph.

For every 1,000 live births, the average number of infants that die is 2 in Sg, versus 24 in Ph, as of 2010. For the same number of live births, the average number of children under 5 years old that die is 2.8 in Sg, versus 29.9 in Ph, as of 2013. For every 100,000 live births, the number of mothers that die is 6 in Sg, versus 120 in Ph, as of 2013.


The schooling of an average adult was 10.2 years in Sg, versus 8.9 in Ph, as of 2012. The schooling available to an average child was 15.4 years in Sg, versus 11.3 in Ph, as of 2012.

The gross national income per capita (GNIpc), valued in 2011 PPP $ (Purchasing Power Parity, or what a dollar could buy in the United States in 2011) was $72,371 in Sg, versus $6,381 in Ph, in 2013.

The Human Development Index (HDI) is a combination of life expectancy at birth, years of schooling and income per capita. HDI is .901 in Sg, versus .660 in Ph, as of 2013.

(A country’s HDI is made by taking 1.000 as the world’s best achievement in each underlying dimension, getting the country’s position relative to the best achievement, and then averaging the country’s positions. Norway has the world’s top HDI of .944, with a life expectancy of 81.5 years, 12.6 years of schooling among adults, 17.6 years of schooling available to a child, and GNIpc of $63,909.)

Subjective happiness and satisfaction with life. Throughout Southeast Asia, whenever surveys ask if people are Very Happy, Somewhat Happy, Somewhat Unhappy, or Very Unhappy, the first two choices combine for at least 90 percent of the responses, making countries indistinguishable.

However, the Very Happy proportion, specifically, was higher in Ph (50 percent) than in Sg (38 percent), according to the latest World Values Survey, in 2012. If one may refer to the extreme feeling as Joy, then one may say that Filipinos are more joyful than Singaporeans.

Alternatively, one can check the Gallup World Poll (GWP), taken of adults in over 160 countries, which asks respondents to rate their satisfaction with life on a scale of 0 to 10, where 0 is the worst possible life, and 10 is the best possible life, that they can imagine. This is called a ladder scale, with 0 as ground level, and 10 as top level.


Pooling together the annual GWP over 2010-2012 (thus tripling the sample size), the average ladder score turns out to be 6.5 in Sg, versus 5.0 in Ph. (In both countries, these averages are more or less unchanged from 2005 to 2007, by the way.) So, are Singaporeans more satisfied with life than Filipinos? Bear in mind that a ladder-scale operates on the basis of the best hopes and the worst fears. Is there a reasonable similarity between the extreme limits of hopes and fears for these two peoples?

The state of democracy. Not long ago, I wrote about the Democracy Index that has been made by the Economic Intelligence Unit (EIU), a private firm that does country-analysis (Opinion, 11/15/14). This index uses judgement calls by country experts, and adds readings from opinion polls in the countries themselves. It is scaled from 0 (i.e., nil) to 10 (i.e., complete) democracy. Scores of 8 and up indicate a “full democracy,” 6.0 to 7.9 imply a “flawed democracy,” 4.0 to 5.9 refer to a “hybrid regime,” and less than 4.0 imply an “authoritarian regime.”

In the Democracy Index for 2012, Singapore’s overall score is 5.88 (i.e., “hybrid regime”) versus the Philippines’ overall score of 6.30 (i.e., “flawed democracy”). Thus, the Democracy Index puts Philippine democracy as superior, on the whole, to Singaporean democracy.

However, the overall Democracy Index score is built up from five underlying scores. These details show Philippine democracy as superior in the three dimensions of (a) civil liberties, by 9.12 versus 7.35 in Sg, (b) electoral process and pluralism, by 8.33 versus 4.22 in Sg, and (c) political participation, by 5.56 versus 3.33 in Sg.

(To illustrate the dimension of civil liberties, I should point out that Singapore has legal bans on exit polls and on surveys of voter preferences during the campaign period. In the Philippines, on the other hand, these two types of survey activities are protected by explicit Supreme Court rulings, in 2000 and 2001, that affirm their coverage by the Constitutional guarantee of freedom of expression.)

On the other hand, Singapore has a superior rating in the two dimensions of (d) government functioning, by 7.50 versus 5.36 in Ph, and (e) political culture, by 6.88 versus 3.13 in Ph.

What aspects of the current situation in Singapore may be attributed to its great leader Lee Kuan Yew, who passed away last week?

De mortuis nihil nisi bonum.

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TAGS: Democracy Index, Economic Intelligence Unit, Gallup World Poll, gross national income per capita, Human Development Index, Lee Kuan Yew, Philippines, Singapore
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