As an ASEAN country, it can’t be helped that the Philippines is often compared to Singapore. After all, Singapore is an epitome of a success story from its efficient government, transportation system, sustainable development strategies, etc. Considering it is such a young nation (at 50 years old), one can’t help but be amazed at how fast they have progressed.
I had the opportunity to visit the country last September for a training on the co-benefits of climate change and health. It was my first time to go there and it was great because part of my training was on the policy process of Singapore for environmental protection and air pollution management. I had nothing but admiration for how they do things in the country. At least from the training alone, I got the impression that the local leadership is strong and has good vision. Policies were evidence-based, and properly implemented and monitored. Pride is imminent not just in the manner our speakers, who were government officials, talked about their work but even in the way ordinary Singaporeans whom I had a chance to interact with speak of their government.
One does not even need to be in a formal training to learn a lot about the country. I realized from my daily encounters that the citizens are highly aware of their history particularly of the reforms Lee Kuan Yew carried out. They are also very knowledgeable on laws from housing, waste management, energy efficiency to air pollution and of the heavy repercussions for violating the law.
One does not even need to speak to anyone just to deduce how efficient and effective Singapore is in general. On my daily bus rides, I noted anyone hardly jaywalks. There is virtually no beggars, garbage, mosquitoes, and overtaking. And despite all the skyscrapers and rapid urban development, I can’t help but be amazed the city-state is still so green.
My reaction towards Singapore was just like what the TESDA Foreign Scholarships and Training Program director predicted—amazement and frustration. During my interview for the training, she advised me to level my expectations because I will be amazed by Singapore but I can become very frustrated because it is everything the Philippines is not.
She was correct to a certain extent. It was easy to get lost in the all possibilities and kind of development we discussed. At the same time, it was easy to deflate that hope with the kind of reality of we have in the Philippines.
It was frustrating going home to Manila guessing if we will ever have the same kind of discipline and success SG had. But I guess that’s the challenge the training posed to me… to not be contented with the status quo, to continuously find ways not just to improve myself but also the society and environment I live in.
Living up to the challenge can be difficult but I think the Philippines is ripe for change. There is no better time to hope and act than now. As one of teaches in the training said, “Change starts when we start thinking and living not as individuals but as communities”.