Singapore's Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong speaks during a news conference at the Prime Minister's office in Putrajaya outside Kuala Lumpur in this April 7, 2014 photo. Photo by Samsul Said, Reuters
SINGAPORE – Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong has taken up the cudgels for the organizers of the Philippine Independence Day celebration here, calling the event's critics “a disgrace to Singapore.”
The remark, posted on Lee’s verified Facebook account on Saturday, asked Singaporeans to “treat people in Singapore the way we ourselves expect to be treated overseas.”
The post was made in light of reports of harassment directed at organizers of a planned Philippine Independence Day celebration on June 8 at the Orchard Road shopping district.
Earlier this week, haters posted anti-Filipino comments on the organizers’ site, forcing the taking down of a poster announcing the event.
“I was appalled to read about those who harassed the organizers of the Philippine Independence Day celebrations, and spammed their Facebook page. They are a disgrace to Singapore. Fortunately this appears to be the work of few trolls,” Lee said on his Facebook account, [LINK: https://www.facebook.com/leehsienloong] which is maintained by the Prime Minister's office.
But personal updates such as this one bore "LHL," the acronym of the leader’s name.
Lee’s post cited a similarly toned statement earlier by the acting Manpower Minister Tan Chuan-Jin, who have been quoted by local media as calling the harassment of Filipino event organizers "bigotry."
“Heartened that many sensible Singaporeans condemn this thuggish behavior, and support Tan Chuan-Jin’s stand on this issue,” Lee said.
As of writing, Lee’s post has been shared 1,316 times, and has obtained 11,473 likes and 1,056 comments.
Sought for reaction on the Singapore government’s support, Rychie Andres, who co-chairs the Pilipino Independence Day Council Singapore (PIDCS), called Lee’s post “nice to read.”
Andres did not give any more comment, but the PIDCS has earlier said it is hopeful the festivities lined up for the event – most of them cultural presentations – would push through.
Many supported Lee’s unequivocal stance and lauded him and Tan for speaking up.
“Of course there would be people who want to disguise their xenophobia as 'national pride.' I don't understand why people should kick up a huge fuss over an innocent celebration for Filipinos who have worked so hard to contribute to our economy. It's not as though they were asking to hold it at the national stadium on August 9. Live and let live,” said one comment.
Singapore celebrates its National Day on August 9 to mark its independence from the Federation of Malaysia in 1965.
Several others called out for punishment to those who have harassed the Filipino event organizers, like a comment saying, “Hope authorities will catch up with these trolls and give them a good warning! I thought there was [an] anti-harassment law?”
But while Lee appealed to his countrymen to respect foreigners the way they would want Singaporeans to be respected in other countries, there are those who connected negative sentiment against foreigners to bigger governance and policy issues.
One comment from someone who identified himself as a member of the PAP, the ruling political party, said “people are unhappy” and that Lee and Tan are “never told the real picture.”
Another comment said, "I believe u also own (sic) Filipinos an apology because rising xenophobia here is a direct consequence of your immigration policies," while another said, “You know well the underlying issue here is not about the proposed celebration. I sincerely hoped you and your party understand the ordinary Singaporeans better."
Some of these comments run along the theme that foreigners steal education or employment opportunities from locals, and crowd out bus or train rides.
There may be indications that the sentiments online are carried only from how some people feel offline.
In a random interview, one Singaporean taxi driver said he envies Filipinos because his impression is that they could work for five years in Singapore, and then afterwards go back already to their homeland to buy a house.
As a local, he has no chance to improve his lot even if he and his wife would work, he said, because children’s schooling is very expensive, just like hospitalization.
“It’s very hard here,” he said