DAVAO (Philippines) - Dialogue and respectful, meaningful engagement are vital to building bridges not walls in societies, said President Halimah Yacob.
She was speaking at a dialogue with around 50 young people at Ateneo de Davao University in Davao City, Mindanao, on Wednesday (Sept 11).
"Engaging respectfully and meaningfully with diversity is not easy," she said. "Constant dialogue and engagement - just like what we are doing now - is key to building trust and understanding in a diverse society."
Such engagement is increasingly important especially as the world gets more complex and people, goods and ideas move more freely across borders.
"The flipside is that we are also seeing societies getting more polarised with growing discord among people of different ethnicities and religions.
"We also see extremism and exclusivity growing stronger," added Madam Halimah, who is on a state visit to the Philippines.
But if one group views another as a threat, society is fragile, she noted.
"It is important to overcome the forces of division and build bridges instead of walls."
As part of respectful engagement, having dialogue is essential to counter prejudice, intolerance and ignorance, she said.
"Through speaking, listening and give-and-take, we can deepen social trust and grow bonds of friendship... (that) will ensure that we stay strong and united as a society, come what may."
To promote such dialogue, Singapore hosted the inaugural International Conference on Cohesive Societies in June that brought together almost 1,000 participants from nearly 40 countries.
Participants shared about the challenges to social harmony in their societies and discussed how they could forge trust and mutual understanding.
Madam Halimah said Mindanao and Singapore are both diverse places in terms of religion and race, or ethnicity and culture. Both societies can also tap diversity as a source of strength, she added.
"It makes our societies more vibrant and our lives richer. It is something we must cherish and protect."
She also visited the Philippine Eagle Centre in Davao, which is home to the eagle that is the Philippines' national bird.
Singapore is the first country in the world to receive a pair of these eagles on a 10-year breeding loan.
Later, Madam Halimah will participate in a Faiths @ Work dialogue in Manila, where she will meet more than 20 participants to discuss interfaith harmony.
She will also meet overseas Singaporeans living in the Philippines at a dinner reception.