A question of commitment, not xenophobia
It seems that nowadays, the charge of xenophobia is often leveled against anyone who questions or posts anything critical of foreigners or non-citizens in Singapore. Is this an accurate portrayal of sentiments of those who object to their presence?
When Brian Carillo, a Filipino who moved to Singapore four years ago wrote a contributing piece to The Satay Club giving a foreigner’s perspective on the foreign talent debate, he was roundly slammed and criticised by many commenters. See comments here, here and here. In response Mr Carillo followed up with a reply attacking his critics as follows:
The Singaporeans that I have worked with apparently pull up the national average, because I now realise that there are people who behave with a sense of entitlement, hoard their possessions jealously, and harbour an intense and illogical hatred whenever they are challenged to improve themselves.
I was shocked and disturbed that some Singaporeans harbour such xenophobic feelings. I would like to say that discrimination in any form is repulsive.
But is Mr Carillo accurate? Are Singaporeans, or rather, those who attacked and questioned his commitment to Singapore objecting to his presence on xenophobic grounds? I do not think so. Firstly, it is apparent from Mr Carillo’s initial letter and his initial comment that while he wants to call Singapore his home, he is unwilling to take up Singapore citizenship:
I work as a manager in a Singaporean company and I hope to have my application for permanent residency approved soon. I want to make Singapore my home.
The author was born in Manila. He moved to Singapore four years ago as an Employment Pass holder. He is a degree holder and a white-collar professional. He is married with one child, and hopes to obtain permanent residency in Singapore for his entire family.
From Mr Carillo’s comment:
Some of you want to know why I am not going to apply for Singapore citizenship.
However, at heart I remain a Filipino. Some of you have rightly said that nationality is not simply a pragmatic or economic decision but an emotional one.
It is apparent from the above that Mr Carillo is not committed enough to apply for Singapore citizenship. How then could he blame the community for slamming him for being an opportunistic person, who is in Singapore for wanting to take advantage of all the benefits of permament residency without having to become a citizen?
However, as much as Mr Carillo’s defenders and apologists would have everyone believe that this is due to xenophobic sentiment, it is easy to disprove that. And contrary to what Mr Carillo thinks, globalisation is just a convenient excuse for not being committed to a country.
Brian Carillo and Ogawa Ryuju compared
Last November, news broke that a certain Ogawa Ryuju, who was born in Japan but who had lived in Singapore almost his entire life who, despite having served NS and renounced his Japanese citizenship was somehow denied (more accurately his SG citizenship was granted, then revoked later) Singapore citizenship due to a technicality which left him stateless.
Both Mr Ryuju and Mr Carillo are non-Singaporeans, yet the online reaction to both cases could not be more different. Whereas Mr Carillo was slammed repeatedly for not being committed to Singapore, Mr Ryuju received an outpouring of sympathy and understanding on the Internet even on Temasek Review, a website which has often been roundly slammed and criticised supposedly for promoting xenophobic sentiments. Don’t take my word for it, see the comments here, here, here and on TR here.
Now the big question to those who scream “Xenophobia!” What explains the difference in online reaction towards each of them? If xenophobia was truly the reason why commenters objected so critically to Mr Carillo’s piece (as Mr Carillo himself seems to think) why was the online reaction to Mr Ryuju who is also not a Singapore citizen instead so much more sympathetic and welcoming than critical, completely unlike that for Mr Carillo?
The answer? It all boils down to commitment to the country. Unlike Mr Carillo, Mr Ryuju lived in Singapore for almost his entire life and had served National Service. His commitment to Singapore is exemplified by the fact that unlike Mr Carillo, Mr Ryuju had also renounced Japanese citizenship, when instead he could have taken the best of both worlds and retained his Singapore PR and Japanese citizenship. It is notable that Mr Ryuju, unlike Mr Carillo, did not exhibit a self-righteous attitude extolling the virtues of globalisation and deem himself fit enough to lecture Singaporeans on its importance.
Brian Carillo and Chen Show Mao compared
Mr Carillo also brought up the example of Chen Show Mao, a star corporate lawyer who in his words served as a perfect example of globalisation, given that he worked abroad almost his entire life before returning to Singapore to stand for MP under the WP ticket. Here Mr Carillo fails to appreciate the fact that Mr Chen was committed enough to give up practicing law as a top corporate lawyer earning big bucks in exchange for a comparatively meagre salary of only $15k a month as MP. And yes, Mr Chen also served National Service and did his part for Singapore.
Can Mr Carillo cite any sacrifice he made which illustrates the same degree of commitment to the country?
I believe many Singaporeans can name friends who have resided in Singapore almost their whole life and have tried to apply for PR, but were repeatedly denied for reasons whatsoever. Their Singaporean identity is not in doubt. Many of them, though non-Singaporean in citizenship, speak the same lingo, mix with locals with an open mind much more than many so-called foreign talents who mingle only largely with their own kind.
Both Ogawa Ryuju’s and Chen Show Mao’s dedication and rootedness to Singapore is not in doubt, whereas Brian Carillo’s commitment has been questioned repeatedly and he has not denied it. The charge of xenophobia only serves to obscure that fact and ignores the issue of commitment. Globalisation is not an excuse for lack of commitment.
Update: I happen to chance upon another example of another individual (Barnabas Lim), this time a PR who was born in Singapore but again denied citizenship due to technicalities despite the fact that he too resided in Singapore all his life and even served National Service. This dated back to 2003. Although there hasn’t been any news of him recently, if his story surfaces again in the blogosphere, it is likely that the Singapore community would be on his side. Xenophobia, anyone? ICA replied in a forum letter here why he wasn’t given citizenship.
Update 2: Brian Carillo has confirmed in a follow up comment to his latest post that Singapore is not his country and that his heart will always remain Filipino. So much for commitment from a person who wants to move his entire family to Singapore, and make Singapore his home but yet not take up citizenship.
Update 3: A reply from another Filipino to Brian Carillo:
A Filipino says:
From one Filipino to another, Brian, SHUT UP.
You are in a foreign land. Your parents should have taught you how to respect the hosts if you visit a house. My parents did. If they treat you like trash, it is YOUR fault, because you are a visitor and YOU decided to stay.
If you are just someone renting a room in someone else’s home, even if you pay the same bills, pay the same for the groceries, DON’T EXPECT TO BE TREATED LIKE FAMILY. BECAUSE YOU ARE NOT.
So shut up.