The Week for Thoughts…in Singapur

March 18, 2013

While waiting at  the bus stop a few days ago I overheard this old man, his English heavy accented (imagine Rex Navarette skits), conversing with a child that spoke to him in typical Singlish. Their brand of English that at first is difficult to understand, but once you get the hang of it, becomes easy to follow — even learn.

The Filipino professionals that came to Singapore in the last 10- 20 years now have their families here. They’re also sending their children to local schools. And these children are rapidly integrating into Singaporean society. I could no longer distinguish Filipino from local sometimes. It’s quite fascinating, how children adapt to their environment almost effortlessly.

As Singapore updates their immigration policy (substantially cutting back on foreign labor) these Filipino-Singaporean generation (from the 90’s up to present) would most likely be the first and only big wave of Filipino immigrants here — subsequent Filipino migration would likely become less and less as years go by. Singapore is expected to adapt stricter measures to ensure the core population don’t get completely diluted. People like me would one day come home but these Filipino Singaporeans would stay and help build their country’s future.

The pioneer of Filipino labor here are the “Domestic Helpers”. These DH’s in fact was here long before the so called Filipino professionals started coming in the 90’s (when Singapore broadly opened its door to foreign workers). Some of them arrived in the island as early as the 70’s. Around the time the economy was starting to pick up and the Singaporeans needed people to look after their children while they help build their modern Singapore.

These Filipinos live a hard life. Out of desperation to support their family leaves country and family behind. Breaks my heart whenever I hear fellow Filipinos look down on these hardworking Filipinos just because they toil in the lower rungs. I suspect that this attitude must be some form of a psychological defense mechanism. We abhor the image of what our nation and her people has become – we disrespect our own because we have little respect for ourselves. We forget that their condition in life is the result of our collective failure as a nation.

I respect these people because my mother worked as a housemaid for rich relatives in Manila in the 60’s. She would recount to us her children how difficult that life was. She did it so she could support her siblings in Negros (they were orphaned very early in life). Fortunately, she was treated very well. The lady of the house, Manang Lolet, wife of the founder of Cafe Puro, was the one that taught her how to cook. I know because once I asked her to teach me how to prepare “achara” (pickled papaya) and she reminded me that it was Manang Lolet that taught her. I then asked what else did she taught her and she just laughed. I guess that means a list too long to enumerate.

I’m not sure if there has been any study made on the economic impact of  Filipina DH’s here in Singapore. I’m sure their service had some positive effect on the local economy back in the day because their presence allowed Singaporeans parents to work. And not only this, I believe that most of them also helped educate young Singaporeans. A friend of mine told me that not only did their Filipina “maid” improved his English, she also helped the brood with their mathematics and other homework (she also learned to cook Teochew dishes from his grandma and this friend remembers well how they all cried at the airport when she left for good). I asked if she happens to be a teacher back in the Philippines, he said no, but he was certain that she had a college degree!

Once I spoke with a Chinese Singaporean cab driver who married an Ilonga that worked before as a Housemaid here. His family, wife and daughter are in Iloilo (I forgot what town). He plans to retire in the Philippines and become a full time “rice farmer”. He said he owns two vehicles that carry farm produce to be sold with the help of his “tatay” . Recently, this man bought a “small rice land” as “investment”. The guy also built for himself a two storey home with his extended family occupying several rooms. As for his daughter, he intends to enroll her in a Chinese school in Iloilo city. I’ll never forget these words from him, “here I am poor, but in the Philippines I am a rich man with big family!”

The frigate Intrepid, one of 6 in service for RSN. The exhibit was an oppurtunity for the local population to see their Navy up close. There were also booths inside the vivocity mall displaying Navy equipment  Most popular among the kids are the real guns that they can hold but not fire of course.

This afternoon we went to see a Singapore Navy stealth frigate berthed in the waters near vivocity for the public to see. They’re trying to drive up local interest in military careers especially in their navy which is a vital military institution for them. A powerful navy ensures protection of their maritime interests. Remember, they have one of the busiest sea port and shipping passages in the world. My brother, a retired US Navy, told me that the Malacca straits (not that far from here) to this day is littered with pirates. He said that their ship would be put on alert every time they pass this body of water. I remember looking it up because I can’t believe that we still have pirates in this part of the world today. Turns out that’s true!

You would be surprised to know that even though Singapore’s considered the richest in South East Asia, the biggest navy in the region belongs to Vietnam. And they don’t plan to scale things down. They’re projected to spend most of their military budget buying more submarines and ships. This explains why they have courage to stand up against China;s bullying in the West seas. We’re also vocal, too confrontational at times, but this posturing has more to do with the guarantees Uncle Sam gives us.

I think it’s time for us to imitate our neighbors. We should stop this modernization with US hand-me-downs (my goodness, last year we receive a WWII ship! c’mon! you kiddin’ me!). The Singaporeans build corvettes and patrol vessels — why don’t we negotiate with them? It doesn’t matter if takes time to modernize as long as military procurement are wisely made. Lets skip making more concessions in exchange for free and discounted used arms. Our neighbors managed to modernize their navies without any external funding and assistance – let’s learn from them.

1st – 2nd week, March 2013

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