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."
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.