Diversity of Philippines, Singapore source of strength, says President Halimah

President adds that diversity teaches values of tolerance, magnanimity, understanding

Both Singapore and the Philippines are diverse societies, and this diversity can be a source of strength, said President Halimah Yacob yesterday.

She was speaking at a media wrap-up session to conclude her first five-day state visit to the Philippines. The visit also marks the 50th anniversary of bilateral relations between the two countries.

Madam Halimah said: "I'm a big champion of diversity. I cannot imagine a Singapore that is not diverse. If we look at Singapore and the Philippines, (both) are diverse.

"Even if you are a homogeneous society, you need to deal with the outside world. Today, it is a globalised world and dealing with the world means dealing with diverse people. Your own experience tells you how you can manage this process."

She added that diversity teaches societies the values of tolerance, magnanimity and understanding.

"When you have a neighbour of a different race or religion, there is a process of accommodation. It helps you build understanding, makes you a better human being and makes the whole society better."

She noted: "There is a strength in diversity and I hope it is something we see globally - that people see it as a value that they appreciate and they want to have. That will make a difference in this world."

On Wednesday, she had a dialogue with about 50 young people at Ateneo de Davao University in Davao City. The dialogue provided a bilateral platform to discuss issues, she said, adding that this format can be replicated in other Asean countries.

"The Asean countries' objectives are very simple: to be a prosperous, stable, secure Asean, and to also have that in the individual countries. Dialogue contributes to this objective... by helping to promote understanding between the different faiths, ethnicities and provide opportunities for people to... put themselves in each other's shoes."


She added that besides dialogue, concrete action is also necessary to build inter-religious cohesion.

She also met more than 20 young participants from Faiths@Work, a regional network of people of different religions who do good work, such as helping a village in Manila get access to clean water.

The President said: "When we talk about interfaith harmony and understanding, it is not just a question of talking to each other, but having such tangible projects that cut across all barriers."

Besides working together on such social issues, Singapore and Philippine businesses can also collaborate in areas such as infrastructure, agriculture, retail and digitalisation, she said.

"The Philippines has a young population that is very savvy with (mobile) apps and e-commerce. This is where our small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) also have the opportunities to go into the market."

Madam Halimah brought up Adera, a Singapore fintech SME partnering a Philippine company to develop e-payment solutions for jeepneys, a mode of public transport in the Philippines.

Both countries can also look for collaboration opportunities in agriculture. She said: "I visited Davao City, known as the food basket of the Philippines, with many natural resources in terms of vegetables and fruit... One of the memorandums of understanding that was exchanged ... was between Enterprise Singapore and the Philippines' Department of Agriculture to look at... exploring ways of collaborating in agri-technology, for example."

On Monday, Madam Halimah and Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte witnessed the exchange of eight agreements between their countries' agencies.

She said: "It is all about bringing quality products and services and supporting both countries. We are Asean neighbours, so as both countries progress, people also progress and the quality of life improves."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 13, 2019, with the headline 'Diversity of Philippines, S'pore source of strength, says Halimah'. Print Edition | Subscribe