Like Lee Kuan Yew, Philippines’ Rodrigo Duterte Reveals Self Through Humble Home

Like Singapore’s Lee Kuan Yew before him, Philippine President-elect Rodrigo Duterte goes home to a nondescript house, sized moderately to his taste, where the comforts of family life sustain him. Lee lived in an old two-story house on the fringe of Singapore’s glitzy ultra-modern shopping belt while Duterte maintains his own old two-story house at the edge of a well-manicured golf course of Davao’s trendy set.

According to The New Paper, the late Lee Kuan Yew chose to live in a house with slightly chipped tiles, peeling varnish, mismatched furniture, and an old exercise bike collecting dust. Meanwhile, visitors to Duterte’s home have come away with impressions of its lived-in look, basic furnishings, boar’s head trophies, and exercise equipment.

When Singapore’s per capita gross domestic product surged more than 100-fold between 1960 and 2011, multi-million dollar houses sprouted up all over the city, but Lee Kuan Yew continued to live the way he did. Similarly, Duterte prefers to stay within his government housing neighborhood than to move into one of the mansions touted by his political peers as symbols of success.

What their dwelling preference seems to suggest is that both men are of a type, not prone to shallow affectations, but understanding of what truly matters to people, a decent roof over their heads, food on the table, and a good quality of life for their families. An Inquisitr report refers to former North Cotabato Governor Manny Piñol pointing out how like Lee Kuan Yew, Duterte appears to be. Just before Duterte won the presidential election on May 9, Piñol made the following observation.

“The Philippines could be Asia’s next Singapore. Rody Duterte could be the Lee Kuan Yew of our age.”

Singapore changed from a third-world country to a first-world country, a feat analysts expected of someone like Lee Kuan Yew as its prime minister. The World Bank in 2013 pegged Singapore’s GDP per-capita income at $55,182, one of the highest in the world, beating that of the United States.

The challenge facing Duterte is to up the per-capita income of the Philippines, which in 2015 achieved a modest $3,000.

Piñol sees what a Democratic strongman like Lee Kuan Yew can achieve for a country in the Philippines’ current state. In his pre-election comparisons, Piñol described Mayor Duterte’s Davao City as the microcosm of the Philippines where the sense of discipline, fear, and respect for the majesty of the law can be embraced by Filipinos elsewhere in the country. This argument proposes that the near elimination of criminality in Davao, its garbage-free streets, and its touch-of-the-phone 9-1-1 emergency services, are achievable for the rest of the Philippines.

Like Lee Kuan Yew in his day, Duterte will face those who expect him to fail. But in the 50 years of facing naysayers, Lee transformed Singapore from a former British outpost to a wealth-producing, internationally accepted city-state.

According to The National Interest, Lee inherited a racially divided population, a 30 percent unemployment rate, domestic instability, and an economy in tatters. Rather than looking for scapegoats or declaring martial law like other leaders reacting to turmoil in Asia, Lee Kuan Yew followed a path that Duterte seems to be on.

Lee recognized people as a resource to be developed. Rather than seeking a bail-out from foreign lenders or buying time with false promises, Lee turned to his people as the future of resource-hungry Singapore. Like it or not, the people were Singapore’s only real natural resource. While Singapore’s strategic location in the sea lanes made it important to maritime trade, the onus rested on the skills of its labor force and business managers to seize the opportunity to grow. Duterte’s Philippines is just as strategically situated as Singapore and can use Lee’s template for economic growth.

The National Interest noted that Lee understood racial divisions among his people, so he embraced diversity. He pre-empted racial strife by using access to education, employment, and social integration as building blocks to forge a nation out of multiple races, ethnicities, and religions. Like Lee Kuan Yew, Duterte is dealing with a melting pot society with a Malay base. Spanish, Chinese, Indian, Japanese, Korean, and other elements have been added to the Filipino gene pool. The mix is gradually heading toward a Hawaiian-like scenario. The key is to keep it a cohesive mix.

Lee’s economic plan asked of every project: “Does it work?” If it worked, it was developed. If it failed, it was dropped. This trial-and-error led to infrastructure from Changi International Airport and the world’s largest container port to the Biopolis and Fusionopolis parks. Like Lee Kuan Yew, Duterte can follow the same path to economic growth in the Philippines.

All that planning also birthed research hubs at the National University of Singapore. The acquired knowledge enabled Singapore to maintain itself as a free port city and run a successful airline company, which is the envy of the world. The sale of public housing to new families increased home-ownership, which stabilized Singapore’s middle class. Tough penalties coupled with competitive salaries for the civil service ended rampant corruption. Government and corporate scholarships assured a well-educated middle class. Lee was neither a liberal nor a socialist. Like Lee Kuan Yew, the man with the unpretentious home, Duterte is a pragmatist, embracing ideas until they yield positive results.

Lee inherited an uncertain world following the defeat of Japan in the Second World War, leaving Singapore in chaos. He had to adapt or become irrelevant, so he chose his battles wisely and broke his opponents before they could break him. He pursued tough and invasive policies to change the habits of his people in order to make Singapore a “first world nation in a third world region.” Like Lee Kuan Yew tackling population growth through family planning, Duterte has now invited the ire of Catholic bishops by pushing for a three-child family limit.

Lee Kuan Yew no more
People mourn the passing of Lee Kuan Yew. Singapore's miracle worker [Photo by diyben / Shutterstock.com]

Since Lee Kuan Yew’s death on March 23, 2015, pictures of his humble home with functional 1950s-style furniture have given the world an insight into his powerful mind. Like Lee Kuan Yew, Duterte keeps a low profile at home with his boar’s head trophies and collection of used shoes (not quite like Imelda Marcos’ collection). What’s on his mind is what counts.

[Photo by Aaron Favila/AP Images File]