Government News Analysis

Singaporean perspective

Refreshingly, a relevant perspective on President Rodrigo Duterte’s efforts to clean-up the Philippines. This one doesn’t come from remote Europe or the remote US; it comes from the Philippines own neighbourhood and provides a more-accurate barometer for assessing the administration’s wars on drugs and criminality. Refreshingly too, it doesn’t come from the rabid agenda-driven, tantrum-prone, duplicitous, self-serving, peevish, propagandist, progressive Liberal Left; it came from a quietly spoken woman diplomat who put purpose above politics.

Speaking at a forum in Quezon City on Tuesday, Singaporean Ambassador to the Philippines, Kok Li Peng (photo), endorsed President Duterte’s War on Drugs, and likened his “political will and determination” to that of the late Lee Kwan Yew, the Father of Singapore.

A voice of sanity, finally, she laid out calmly and concisely the Singaporean position on illegal drugs. This is how she put it: “Singapore has a zero-tolerance policy on drugs. We have a very tough policy on drugs, and we think that it works for us…” And indeed it does; Singapore has one of lowest prevalence of drug abuse in the world.

Refusing to be drawn into judging Duterte’s anti-drugs campaign she added “and we respect other countries’ rights to determine how they’re going to pursue their own anti-drug policies. We have consistently said that it is every country’s sovereign right to enact laws and policies for the people”. You won’t hear that speech coming out of Washington or Brussels.

What a contrast this measured, thoughtful delivery was to the usual screaming fits of invective that normally accompanies appraisals of Duterte and his anti-drugs policy. Last week, via her home-made video to a Liberal-sponsored UN gathering in Vienna, Philippine Vice President Leni Robredo did a knife job on her president and told the world, in essence, that the voting majority in her country had made a grave error of judgement in electing the former Davao mayor.

In other words, it had screwed up for not handing the country’s top job to the Liberal Party standard bearer, Mar Roxas, under whose watch as Interior Secretary, illegal drugs and crime flourished. In the Philippines in the last two year’s of his term there was a total of 19,399 murders, 6,184 homicides and 20,185 rapes. Evidently stats which didn’t trouble today’s critics.

And so, while Robredo grinds her axe for all she was worth, Ambassador Kok has objectively assessed Duterte’s determination to rid his country of illegal drugs and criminal elements. It’s not surprising then that the Liberals are struggling to make any headway in rebuilding support.

The Liberal Party is in utter tatters. It didn’t just lose its base at the last election; it lost its parliamentarians which fled in droves to support Duterte’s PDP-Laban party immediately after he was declared president. Right now, Robredo or anyone else her party might want to field, stands more chance of winning the Grand Lotto 6/55 two times in a row than gaining the presidency.

Apart from shouting well above its weight – small dogs bark louder, longer and more often than big dogs – the Liberal Party has achieved a total of nothing since the May election in which it was roundly defeated. That’s of course if we don’t count its continual attempts to bring down the country’s democratically elected government – though in fairness, central to Liberal belief is that it’s not democracy unless they win.

And so, while Robredo was grinding her axe for all she was worth, Ambassador Kok objectively assessed Duterte’s determination to rid his country of illegal drugs and criminal elements. The juxtaposition of the two women really says it all; one objective, the other wholly subjective; one direct and clear-thinking, the other manipulative and emotional; one providing analysis, the other requiring analysis.

The point is, Duterte isn’t modeling his country on the US or Brussels or Germany, he’s very much modeling it on Singapore. Like the island state, he wants to make the Philippines business friendly; adopt the same independence in trade and foreign policy; re-establish the national and cultural identity.

And, like Singapore, he seek to wholly eradicate crime. For that he’s not going to be using former US president Barack Obama or Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau, as role models. He’s going to look closer to his own neighbourhood – specifically, the backyard of Southeast Asia where problems are handled with an Asian sense not via some one-size-fits-all Washington boiler plate.

Lee Kwan Yew said this: “If you are a troublemaker… it’s our job to… destroy you. Everybody knows that in my bag I have a hatchet, and a very sharp one. You take me on, I take my hatchet, we meet in the cul-de-sac”. That’s not a million miles from this from Duterte: “You drug pushers, hold-up men and do-nothings, you better go out. Because I’d kill you. I’ll dump all of you into Manila Bay and fatten all the fish there”.

Lee, however, had a distinct advantage over Duterte. He was able to deal with threats to the Lion City from communism and widespread criminality in the pre-Liberal era. Were Singapore having to tackle those issues today, it would be up against exactly the same Liberal Western opposition the Philippines presently faces.

In the mid and late 1960s when Lee was rebuilding his nation, the human-rights industry had barely started. Major Duterte critics, Amnesty International founded in 1961 would take another decade to establish itself; Human Rights Watch first emerged in 1978.

That said, if Lee had to face them in the present political climate, he wouldn’t be deterred. Like Duterte, his country, its future and its people would far outweigh any other considerations. And he certainly wouldn’t be dictated to by the West.

In their anti-Duterte rampages, Robredo and sister-in-arms, Liberal senator and prison detainee, Leila De Lima – now in police custody and charged with drugs profiteering – regularly take the president to task over his wish to re-instate the death penalty. The UN and Liberal Europe rally to their support, though here the US which retains capital punishment is forced to keep quiet.

We don’t need to ask Ambassador Kok her opinion on Duterte’s plan to ‘un-suspend’ the death penalty by a simple Constitutional amendment; we know what it is. She would view it as a sovereign right to pursue that policy also.

And she wouldn’t be alone. Capital punishment is the norm in this part of the world and is carried out regularly, not least for drugs-related offences. There were 14 drug-crime executions, for example, in Indonesia in 2015.

In Singapore the death penalty is mandatory for serious drug offences; and it’s not just for the locals. Last November, two foreigners dropped through the trapdoor at Changi Prison. And according to all the surveys to date, Singaporeans overwhelming back the policy.

In this region, the death penalty is also on the statue books of China, Japan, Taiwan, South Korea, Thailand, Malaysia, Brunei, Vietnam, Myanmar and Laos. In fact, the only places it’s not are Cambodia, Timor-Leste – and the Philippines. So the Robredo and Co shouldn’t expect too much Asian support from nations she must obviously disapprove of.

What Lee Kwan Yew realised very early on in building the island state of Singapore, was that for it to become a robust economy – today it’s ranked as one of the most open in the world – it first had to deal with its own internal problems. Unlike the Liberal elite in the Philippines who seem quite happy for their country to stagger on lurching from domestic crisis to domestic crisis – provided that their Liberal crony network doesn’t suffer – Duterte shares Lee’s judgement and believes in employing very similar solutions to achieve his goals.

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