What did Lee Kuan Yew think of Ferdinand Marcos and the Philippines?

·Senior Editor
·3 min read
The late Lee Kuan Yew, Singapore's first Prime Minister, had much to say about the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos and the Philippines (PHOTO: AP/Reuters/Val Roriguez/Tim Chong)
The late Lee Kuan Yew, Singapore's first Prime Minister, had much to say about the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos and the Philippines. (PHOTO: AP/Reuters/Val Roriguez/Tim Chong)

These are some of the thoughts by Singapore's first Prime Minister, the late Lee Kuan Yew, about the Philippines.

On the Marcoses

"Only in the Philippines could a leader like Ferdinand Marcos, who pillaged his country for over 20 years, still be considered for a national burial. Insignificant amounts of the loot have been recovered, yet his wife and children were allowed to return and engage in politics." From Lee Kuan Yew's book "From Third World To First: The Singapore Story: 1965-2000", published in 2000.

“Marcos might have started off as a hero, but ended up as a crook… Unlike Marcos of the Philippines, Suharto did not spirit his wealth outside his country in readiness for a quick exit.” In "From Third World To First", Lee recalled being asked by U.S. Vice President Walter Mondale on whether Marcos was "a hero or a crook" and how he compared to Indonesian president Suharto. This was Lee's answer.

On multiple coup attempts after the People Power Revolution

“This was a pity because they had so many able people, educated in the Philippines and the United States. Their workers were English-speaking, at least in Manila. There was no reason why the Philippines should not have been one of the more successful of the ASEAN countries.” Lee lamented investors' reluctance to invest in the country in "From Third World To First".

On Filipino culture

"In the 1950s and 1960s, it was the most developed, because America had been generous in rehabilitating the country after the war. Something was missing, a gel to hold society together.

The people at the top, the elite mestizos, had the same detached attitude to the native peasants as the mestizos in their haciendas in Latin America had toward their peons.They were two different societies: Those at the top lived a life of extreme luxury and comfort while the peasants scraped a living, and in the Philippines it was a hard living. They had no land but worked on sugar and coconut plantations."

On the Philippines

“Something had gone seriously wrong. Millions of Filipino men and women had to leave their country for jobs abroad beneath their level of education. Filipino professionals whom we recruited to work in Singapore are as good as our own. Indeed, their architects, artists, and musicians are more artistic and creative than ours. Hundreds of thousands of them have left for Hawaii and for the American mainland. It is a problem the solution to which has not been made easier by the workings of a Philippine version of the American constitution,”

“Some Filipinos write and speak with passion. If they could get their elite to share their sentiments and act, what could they not have achieved?”

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