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Make amends after sorry episode

Published on May 31, 2014 8:04 AM

The online rantings of discontents about the celebration plans of the Pilipino Independence Day Council Singapore have left an ugly trail. The sorry episode saw the organisers removing their Facebook post to canvass support for the event, and recoiling from abusive phone callers who wanted the June 8 event to be cancelled. Even though other Singaporeans rallied behind the Filipino community and urged them to stay the course, the toxicity of the vitriol was sufficient to unravel the Filipinos' plan to gather at Ngee Ann City Civic Plaza in Orchard Road. Now, the annual celebration here has been cancelled, for the first time in over 20 years. Had Singapore Day, marked abroad by Singaporeans and their guests, been called off under similar circumstances, there is no doubt that all Singaporeans would have felt abused and let down by their foreign friends.

The skid marks of such incidents tend to leave a long trail and are not easily erased because of the acute discomfort evoked by anything that smacks of xenophobia. One might regard the acts of the anonymous perpetrators - there's no telling who or how many - as no different from other sporadic and excessive bursts of cyber fury. Yet, unfortunately, their impact was heightened by the underlying resentment towards overcrowding and job competition ascribed to foreigners.

Not surprisingly, the incident made the rounds abroad. When Singaporeans in general are linked with such unwelcoming attitudes, others might begin to look askance at them. Citizens of a small global city, who must engage with the world to develop their nation and hold their own against larger competitors, can scarcely afford a reputation for being unwelcoming to foreigners.

The harm caused cannot be undone but amends can be made, say, by organising an informal get-together for Filipinos to mark the 116th anniversary of the Philippines' independence. Even if it is just a no-frills event, such a gesture by some well-meaning groups here would go a long way to show that Singaporeans are indeed capable of being gracious hosts.

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