Pinoys on Lee Kuan Yew
A book that may have escaped your reading list due to your preoccupation with the recent national elections and its aftermath is a book that is perhaps the only known collection of essays and articles written by Filipinos about the late founder of modern Singapore, former Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew.
Edited and produced by known visionary businessman Jose Leviste Jr., the volume starts with a prologue by someone who knew Lee well, former Philippine Prime Minister Cesar Virata. It is a collection of some 35 previously published essays plus an epilogue and postscript of noted Filipino authors, columnists, journalists and analysts. They write not only of LKY the man, but of the Singapore he built almost all by himself.
In sum, the essays pit the fond admiration and critique of the authors for LKY the man they knew, and the Singapore to which they grudgingly compare their own Philippines.
It includes the praising, and the critical, like Randy David’s critique of the autocratic leadership style and keenly observant piece like that of former CNN Jakarta Bureau Chief and Rappler founder Maria Ressa. Max Soliven’s article compares the Singapore he first visited in 1960, which he described as a hovel with the best restaurant then being no better than a Ma Mon Luk noodle house with the airconditioned, manicured Singapore of the millennium. Glenda Gloria’s essay paints an intimate picture between the Straits Times Filipino photographer George Gascon and LKY, while Cebuano columnist Bobit Avila speaks of the Servant leadership exemplified by the agnostic Lee that many Catholic Filipino leaders have failed to posess.
Many other essays speak of the former Prime Minister’s attention to detail and cleanliness, being time bound in their commitments and frugal in his ways.
The book comes out at the same time our own Rody Duterte ascends the political battle to win the Philippine presidency. Thus, the parallels between both ASEAN leaders abound.
Both lived through without any accusation of corruption in the entirety of their long political careers. Both were outspoken and could give scathing retorts and criticisms of their own critics, and took the lead in transforming what were essentially multilingual, multicultural backwaters into boomtowns. Their foreign policies mirror each other, with a balance of relations between the West and China.
The similarities in their governed constituencies likewise draw attention: they both had approval ratings in the 90s, yet disdained popularity surveys, and, even at the expense of adverse international opinion, sought to please no one but their citizens.
That LKYs son Lee Hsien Loong sought obtained an official meeting with him at the sidelines of the ASEAN Summit in Vientiane, and the Singaporean ambassadors public admiration of Duterte says much about the city states’ regard for the Filipino President in spite of whatever past he had with them.
Perhaps at no time in our history will this book be more widely read, for the parallels drawn between Lee and Duterte strike vital chords in many a Pinoy’s secret yearning for the country to be a Singapore. As the Duterte presidency's policies and programs unfold in the coming months and years many will read, and reread these pages as both a reference, and a standard.