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What We Can Learn From APEC’s Most Liveable City


A Filipino living abroad shares six lessons that the Philippines can learn from Singapore


After residing in Singapore for 12 years, it comes as no surprise to me that it has replaced Hong Kong as the most liveable city in Asia in the Global Liveability report by the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU).

A technological hub that is the heart of a dynamic region in Southeast Asia, Singapore continues to excel across various sectors, a quality that entices immigrants to uproot to this multiracial city-state. The EIU’s in-house analysts rank cities by allocating each a score for over 30 qualitative and quantitative factors across five main categories: stability, healthcare, culture and environment, education, and infrastructure. The scores are then collated and totaled up to give a score out of 100.
So how did Singapore become the most liveable city in Asia? Here are six reasons how the small island achieved this.

Education has always been a crucial investment for Singaporeans.

The main factors for Singapore’s rise to the title were impressive and consistent improvements in its world-renowned education system, attaining a perfect score for the first time from the EIU.
From the onset of their education, children are subjected to a strong culture of academic competitiveness that pushes students to excel in their studies.

This is evident in how most parents invest hundreds of Singaporean dollars for extra tuition classes after school hours so that their children can improve in weak subjects or be well-prepared, especially when nearing national examinations.

Singapore’s comprehensive curriculum framework complements this competitive culture. The EIU ranked the country as the best in effectively equipping their students with the necessary skills for future labor markets. Hence, it is an educational system that not only nurtures bright students and prepares them for exams, but also lays the groundwork for the younger generation to make a difference in the future workforce.

The Philippines needs to realize the importance of this investment and fund its educational sector to upgrade public schools and revamp its curriculum to meet the needs of the younger generation.

Singapore is ranked as the second safest city in the whole world after Tokyo, according to EIU’s Safe Cities Index. Known to be a very disciplined and secured society, Singapore’s safety is one of its finest characteristics due to the lack of crime, military conflict, and civil unrest— undesirable events that take place in many countries.

The lack of crime can be summed up in one observation: You can walk out on the streets at three in the morning without fear of getting kidnapped or mugged.

Unlike other cities, Singapore’s ban on drugs, guns, and public alcoholic consumption restrictions after 10:30p.m. creates a safe city that easily attracts foreign investments.

In the sphere of international relations, Singapore finds itself in a volatile geopolitical situation where terrorism is rife in nearby countries. Hence, it has built a military force to be reckoned with despite its small population.

All able-bodied men who reach the age of 18 are required to go through two harsh years of National Service in order to train them for any deployment or mission even after they have finished their service. This essentially means that Singapore has a combat-ready citizen army that is ready for armed conflict.

(Above) The Singapore Armed Forces deployed for an overseas exercise. (Left) Singaporean children begin to undergo rigorous academic training from a very young age, Singapore’s educational system not only nurtures bright students and prepares them for exams, but also lays the groundwork for the younger generation to make a difference in the future workforce.

In the Philippines, security is lax compared to Singapore. Stricter laws with firm actions are needed to ensure discipline in our society.

It is also the fierce poverty cycle that leads many to a life of crime. There is a lack of job opportunities in the country and more must be done to allow the poorest to change their lives for the better.

Singapore’s health care system ticks all the boxes for an effective and efficient structure.

All workers until the age of 55 need to put 20% of their earnings into a Central Provident Fund (CPF) account, with a further 17% added by their employers. This account is further divided into three other accounts: one for housing, investment, and education; one for retirement; and the last one is for health care insurance.

Affordable healthcare is accessible to everyone in Singapore.

The government’s unique health care system is heavily reliant on the last account—Medisave. This helps to promote individual responsibility for one’s own health to avoid an over dependency on state welfare and third-party medical insurance. Due to this cost-sharing policy, basic healthcare becomes more affordable.

The presence of private healthcare also challenges public services, creating a free market that fosters competition, which indefinitely brings greater quality of services for Singapore’s citizens.

The same cannot be said of the Philippines, where good quality healthcare is only affordable to middle and upper class Filipinos who can pay for private health services.

The public sector is often underfunded and its clinics lack resources and doctors to tend to poor families. As a result, the country has a high mortality rate and a number of issues that have yet to be solved to achieve a proper and stable healthcare system.

The Philippines has a lot to learn from Singapore when it comes to improving and cleaning our environment. Announced as the “Greenest City in Asia” by EIU’s Green City Index in 2016, it only takes a few days in Singapore’s streets to understand why.

The public maintenance of the environment is admirable; you almost won’t find any trash lying on the streets or dirty streams full of garbage and muck. One reason for this is the law that bans any form
of littering on public space. Should you be caught littering, you can be fined up to S$1,000 (P38,300) and forced to do community service as a deterrent for others who might wish to do the same.

This rigid enforcement may seem illogical for some, but maintaining the cleanliness of the city thwarts any incident of diseases reaching epidemic levels in a small country like Singapore. Furthermore, most Singaporeans have a “clean as you go” attitude, which is an admirable trait so public cleaners do not have to go the extra mile just to keep amenities clean.

Our country can adopt stricter environmental laws and improved maintenance of irrigation systems so as to improve the quality of living. It also needs to solve the mammoth task of relocating illegal settlements or “squatters.”

Just last year, Singapore was ranked No. 8 in the world at the Sustainable Cities Mobility Index by Arcadis, a global design and consultancy group. It considers indicators such as safety, ridership, congestion, delays, affordability, and more to grade the best transport systems.

Singapore’s public transport system includes the Mass Railway Transport (MRT), LRT (Light Railway Transport), buses, and taxis.

It’s hard to imagine that 25 years ago there was only a single MRT line operating in Singapore. Currently, there are five lines with over 119 stations and LRTs, trains that cover the small and crowded regions of Singapore.

The beautiful thing about Singapore’s public transport is that it is so convenient. You can travel from one end of the country to another within an hour, with no complaints about the cleanliness of the trains and buses.

In Manila, widespread traffic congestion is a common sight and its public transportation needs to be improved so Filipinos will use their cars less frequently. Bus services should also be nationalized and not run by numerous private companies.

To build an effective transport system—its roads, highways, and public transportation—urban planning of congested cities needs to be top-notch.

Lastly, it is Singapore’s leadership that has transformed the country from a backward sea port to a thriving hub with a booming economy within half a decade.

The first Prime Minister, Lee Kuan Yew, was an intelligent and visionary leader who knew the high stakes of driving Singapore’s independence, with the country’s future in the balance.

He performed an economic miracle by galvanizing a nation with multi-racial and religious groups and developed a highly technocratic government that resolutely pushed for competitive, meritocratic, and results-based policies across all sectors.

In one of his famous speeches, he said: “Whoever governs Singapore must have that iron in him. Or give it up. This is not a game of cards.”

Governance is not an easy task. There is so much to lose when a government does not serve the needs of its people.

A bad example would be the corruption that is rife in Philippine politics. Until our leaders become exceptional in their duty to lead, our country will not be exceptional in how it is run.

In conclusion, the most liveable country in Asia has proven itself by succeeding in almost every sector of the Global Liveability report. Its achievements in education, security, healthcare, infrastructure, and the environment were all possible due to outstanding leadership that allowed Singapore’s progress to be strong and steady.

We, Filipinos, can learn so much from Singapore’s success story. There is so much hope in our country, especially since it’s filled with talented people who can change the world.

But for now, we must take a combination of baby steps and giant leaps to improve our homeland, not for the sake of global indexes and for our reputation, but for the sake of our people.

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