Singapore's Lee and Malaysia's Mahathir would reject Cha-cha
AS I WRECK THIS CHAIR By William M. Esposo
The Philippine Star 2012-08-07
On separate occasions, Lee Kuan Yew and Mahathir Mohamad former prime ministers of Singapore and Malaysia, respectively, had zeroed in on the Philippine core problem. They both observed that our core problem is our counterproductive culture, and that’s something that Charter change (Cha-cha) can’t fix.

When Globalization was in vogue and many world leaders were mesmerized by its heralded benefits - Mahathir delivered an anti-Globalization speech here. Mahathir suspected that the developed countries concocted Globalization in order to exploit the underdeveloped countries. It’s like a rape that’s being peddled as a lover’s tryst. It must also be stated that Mahathir has always been wary of Western exploitation. Like us, the Malaysians were also colonized and exploited.

Mahathir then proceeded to debunk the “level playing field” mantra of the Globalization promoters. He likened it to sports competitions. The boxing ring may be level but if one boxer is a heavyweight while the other is a flyweight — the odds are very much in favor of the heavyweight. The basketball court may be level but if it’s a one-on-one between a 7-footer and a 6-footer, the smaller player might not even score a basket at all.

Hindsight-wise, we now better appreciate the wisdom of Mahathir. He was better in protecting the national interests of Malaysia and didn’t hesitate going against the popular trend when he felt that it wasn’t beneficial to them. The irony of it is that Malaysia coped better with Globalization than we did.

When Mahathir received an Honorary Professor Title from the University of Santo Tomas (UST) last June, his speech became the focal point of passionate reactions. Mahathir was echoing a similar position of Singapore political titan and former Prime Minister — Lee Kuan Yew — that we Filipinos suffer from too much democracy.

Lee wrote in his book: “There was no reason why the Philippines should not have been one of the more successful of the ASEAN countries. In the 1950s and 1960s, it was the most developed, because America had been generous in rehabilitating the country after the war. Something was missing, a gel to hold society together. The people at the top, the elite mestizos, had the same detached attitude to the native peasants as the mestizos in their haciendas in Latin America had toward their peons. They were two different societies: Those at the top lived a life of extreme luxury and comfort while the peasants scraped a living, and in the Philippines it was a hard living. They had no land but worked on sugar and coconut plantations. They had many children because the church discouraged birth control. The result was increasing poverty.”

Lee was spot on in this: “Filipino professionals whom we recruited to work in Singapore are as good as our own. Indeed, their architects, artists, and musicians are more artistic and creative than ours. Hundreds of thousands of them have left for Hawaii and for the American mainland. It is a problem the solution to which has not been made easier by the workings of a Philippine version of the American constitution.

The difference lies in the culture of the Filipino people. It is a soft, forgiving culture. Only in the Philippines could a leader like Ferdinand Marcos, who pillaged his country for over 20 years, still be considered for a national burial. Insignificant amounts of the loot have been recovered, yet his wife and children were allowed to return and engage in politics. They supported the winning presidential and congressional candidates with their considerable resources and reappeared in the political and social limelight after the 1998 election that returned President Joseph Estrada. General Fabian Ver, Marcos’s commander-in-chief who had been in charge of security when Aquino was assassinated, had fled the Philippines together with Marcos in 1986. When he died in Bangkok, the Estrada government gave the general military honors at his burial.”

Mahathir said in his UST speech: “Democracy works only when the people understand the limitations of democracy. When people think only of the freedoms of democracy and know nothing of the implied responsibilities, democracy will not bring the goodness that it promises. Instead it will result only in instability and instability will not permit development to take place and the people to enjoy the benefits of freedom and the rights that democracy promises. No sooner is a Government elected when the losers would hold demonstrations and general strikes accusing the Government of malpractices.”
Like Lee, Mahathir believes that it’s not a question of system but one of culture that’s plaguing our country. He said: “Changing culture is far more difficult than changing the policies of government. It is easy enough to propose affirmative action but it is not easy to implement it. The recipients must have the right attitude if the results are going to be obtained.”

We must learn the wisdom in the words of Lee and Mahathir. Our problem is our culture, and not our Constitution. It’s not just an under accomplishing culture that we have — our pwede na yan (that will do) attitude — but a damaged culture as well. Charter change or Cha-cha cannot reform a nation’s damaged culture. It’s time we drop these illusory solutions and start reforming ourselves.

* * *

Shakespeare: “Madness in great ones must not unwatched go.”

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