Impressive Singapore
HIGH GROUND By William M. Esposo 2006-04-24
I spent the Holy Week in Singapore to be with my younger sister Dorothy who has been based there for over three years now after having been promoted corporate communications regional head of a German multi-national firm. Last year, we also had a similar family reunion in the Lion City, as Singapore is popularly known.
Coming from the Philippines with all our attendant problems, one cannot help but be impressed by Singapore—how a tiny dot in our region managed to find its niche and be a proud showcase of political, social and economic achievements. From a world like ours where there seems to be no rules, one is immediately relaxed to find order and predictability in Singapore.

This is immediately felt when one boards a Singapore Airlines (SIA) flight. It is as if the portal to the SIA plane transported you already to a totally different world. The services of SIA attendants certainly make you feel that way. They have that “don’t wait to be asked” attitude towards service to their passengers. When they see that you need assistance, they will rush to help you and not wait for you to request them.

Unlike my nightmare of a flight with Philippine Airlines (PAL) last year when my wheelchair was not where it was supposed to be upon disembarkation—there was no such incident this time. My wife and I had to pay more to fly with SIA but I felt that the cost was worth being spared that aggravation that we went through with PAL last year.

Singapore’s phenomenal national feat was attained in only less than 40 years, after having charted its independent course from the rest of Malaysia on August 9, 1965. When Singapore became an independent state, we were the second best performing economy in Asia. Now we can’t even claim to be second to Singapore in the ASEAN region!

From my point of view, two factors made Singapore what it is today and those two factors are the leadership and the people. It takes two to tango. A good leadership alone would not have been able to do it and neither would a great people without an enlightened leadership to direct it. Sadly, we have a problem with both in our country.


The impact of leadership on the flow of human history cannot be over emphasized. For instance, the 20th century could have been totally different had it not been for the leadership of two men who shared a common ancestry and democratic values—US President Franklin D. Roosevelt and his cousin British Prime Minister Winston Churchill. Had it not been for the leadership of these two, the 20th century could have been the world envisioned by Lenin, Stalin, Hitler and Mao, a definitely less kind, less gentle world.

You will catch many Filipinos expressing a wish that we here had a leader like Singapore’s Lee Kuan Yew, the chief architect of the Singapore success story and now called the Minister Mentor. The worse it gets here, the more you will hear fellow Filipinos wishing that we were being led by Lee Kuan Yew.

The accolade is well-deserved. Singapore was no walk in the park for Lee Kuan Yew and his team when they transformed it to what it is today. Singapore had no natural resources to speak of. Manpower resources was all that Singapore had going for it and in 1965 even that was nowhere what it is today in terms of professionalism and sophistication. Then too Singapore had to live with a reality that could potentially be a source of national discord as we ourselves and other countries in our region have experienced—the existence of a diverse society that is composed of Chinese and Indian immigrants and native Malays.

Lee Kuan Yew and his team lived with what they had and today Singapore excels not just in the ASEAN region but in the entire continent of Asia as well as a top corporate service center, a top IT capital and is also on toe-to-toe competition with Hong Kong as a financial center and trans-shipment point for goods in Asia. Thus, it is not surprising that many multi-national companies, just like the one where my sister Dorothy works, opted to base their ASEAN headquarters in Singapore.

Singaporeans “CAN”

The “CAN” attitude sets the tone for the professionalism that is well-inculcated among working members of Singapore society be it the hotel staff that you meet or the corporate executives that you’re transacting with. Ask a Singaporean to render a service and he or she will proudly respond—“CAN.”

That “CAN” attitude reflects a national awareness that it is service that keeps the Singapore economy running. It is a consciousness of the fact that Singaporeans live and sustain their families on the services that they render. In the bottom line, all products that are sold are services that are provided in some form or another. And in the era of globalization, anyone who is providing a service or a product competes not just with the next store but all stores in the world that are selling the same product and service.

In our country, people are desperately looking for jobs. In Singapore, people seem never to stop working. Singaporeans who are well into retirement age are all over the place engaged in post-career work. Many of them are driving taxi cabs while some are providing services in world-class Chiangi Airport.

My sister contracts a special Mercedes Benz cab service courtesy of Mr. Ho who is a retired investment banker. Mr. Ho does not need to work anymore but he opted not to become idle or a fixture in some geriatric club. A 60-year-old stocky woman helped push my wheelchair when we departed for home via Chiangi Airport Terminal II. I would have preferred assistance from a younger man but then I have no influence on who the airport management assigns to help me. I can only be grateful for the help.

The drive to excel

What impresses me most about the leaders and citizens of Singapore is their drive to excel. Singapore is a country that is ready to compete globally, a country that will not rest on its laurels. Alas, this attitude is very much missing in our country. Filipino individuals here and there do manage to make their imprint on the world stage but by and large we as a people are plagued by that “pwede na yan” (“That will do”) mentality.

Our leaders are of course the guiltiest for the perpetuation of the “pwede na yan” national plague. The sorry state of our country is the result of that attitude. When they ought to be working double time to push our country back on track to catch up with our neighbors in ASEAN who we used to lead—they are more engrossed with personal interests rather than national interest.

When they should be improving government services, especially in those agencies that deal directly with foreign investors, they are engaged in this self-serving drive for Charter change. Reduced red tape and graft and corruption and not a change of the constitution is what will improve the level of foreign investments here.

In fact, this Charter change controversy is worrying investors who are forever dismayed at how the rules of the game seem to change overnight in our country.

You may email William M. Esposo at:

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All Excited by Pope Francis

A great disservice to P-Noy

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