Thursday, May 18, 2006

History of Singapore

In my effort to know more about Singapore, I browsed the Internet to read of its history. I found one good version at You do not need to browse, however, I reprinted the most important parts here:

Written accounts of its early history sketchy and the names used to refer to the country are varied. In the third century, a Chinese account gave reference to Singapore as Pu-luo-chung, or "island at the end of a peninsula". In 1320, however, the Mongol court sent a mission to a place called Long Yamen (Dragon's Tooth Strait) to get elephants. This probably referred to Keppel Harbour. A visitor from China, Wang Dayuan, who came around 1330, called the main settlement Pancur (spring), and reported that there were Chinese already living here. One of the earliest references to Singapore as Temasek, or Sea Town, was found in the Javanese Nagarakretagama' of 1365. The name was also mentioned in a Vietnamese source at around the same time. By the end of the 14th century, the Sanskrit name, Singapura (Lion City), became commonly used.

At that time, Singapore was caught in the struggles between Siam (now Thailand) and the Java-based Majapahit Empire for control over the Malay Peninsula. According to the Sejarah Melayu (Malay Annals), Singapore was defeated in one Majapahit attack, but Iskandar Shah, or Parameswara, a prince of Palembang, later killed the local chieftain and installed himself as the island's new ruler. Shortly after, he was driven out, either by the Siamese or by the Javanese forces of the Majapahit Empire. He fled north to Muar in the Malay Peninsula, where he founded the Malacca Sultanate. Singapore remained an important part of the Malacca Sultanate; it was the fief of the admirals (laksamanas), including the famous Hang Tuah.

Founding of Modern Singapore

The British, who were extending their dominion in India, and whose trade with China in the second half of the 18th century was expanding, saw the need for a port of call in this region to refit, revitalise and protect their merchant fleet, as well as to forestall any advance by the Dutch in the East Indies. As a result, they established trading posts in Penang (1786) and and captured Malacca from the Dutch (1795).

On 29 January 1819, Sir Stanford Raffles, Lieutenant-Governor of Bencoolen, landed on the island of Singapore after having surveyed other nearby islands. The next day, he concluded a preliminary treaty with Temenggong Abdu'r Rahman to set up a trading post here. On 6 February 1819, a formal treaty was concluded with Sultan Hussein of Johor and the Temenggong, the de jure and defacto rulers of Singapore respectively.

Singapore proved to be a prized settlement. By 1820, it was earning revenue, and three years later, its trade surpassed that of Penang. In 1824, Singapore's status as a British possession was formalised by two new treaties. The first was the Anglo-Dutch Treaty of March 1824, by which the Dutch withdrew all objections to the British occupation of Singapore. The second treaty was made with Sultan Hussein and Temenggong Abdu'r Rahman in August, by which the two owners ceded the island out right to the British in return for increased cash payments and pensions.

The Straits Settlements

Singapore, together with Malacca and Penang, the two British settlements in the Malay Peninsula, became the Straits Settlements in 1826, under the control of British India. By 1832, Singapore had become the centre of government for the three areas. On 1 April 1867, the Straits Settlements became a Crown Colony under the jurisdiction of the Colonial Office in London.
With the advent of the steamship in the mid-1860s and the opening of the Suez Canal in 1869, Singapore became a major port of call for ships plying between Europe and East Asia. And with the development of rubber planting, especially after the 1870s, it also became the main sorting and export centre in the world for rubber. Before the close of the 19th century, Singapore was experiencing unprecedented prosperity and trade expanded eightfold between 1873 and 1913. The prosperity attracted immigrants from areas around the region. By 1860, the population had grown to 80,792. The Chinese accounted for 61.9 per cent of the number; the Malays and Indians 13.5 and 16.05 per cent respectively; and others, including the Europeans, 8.5 per cent.
The peace and prosperity ended when Japanese aircraft bombed the sleeping city in the early hours of 8 December 1941. Singapore fell to the Japanese on 15 February 1942, and was renamed Syonan (Light of the South). It remained under Japanese occupation for three and a half years.

Towards Self-Government

The British forces returned in September 1945 and Singapore came under the British Military Administration. When the period of military administration ended in March 1946, the Straits Settlements was dissolved. On 1 April 1946, Singapore became a Crown Colony. Penang and Malacca became part of the Malayan Union in 1946, and later the Federation of Malaya in 1948.
Postwar Singapore was a contrast to the prewar country of transient immigrants. The people, especially the merchant class, clamored for a say in the government. Constitutional powers were initially vested in the Governor who had an advisory council of officials and nominated non-officials. This evolved into the separate Executive and Legislative Councils in July 1947. The Governor retained firm control over the colony but there was provision for the election of six members to the Legislative Council by popular vote. Hence, Singapore's first election was held on 20 March 1948.

When the Communist Party of Malaya tried to take over Malaya and Singapore by force, a state of emergency was declared in June 1948. The emergency lasted for 12 years. Towards the end of 1953, the British government appointed a commission under Sir George Rendel to review Singapore's constitutional position and make recommendations for change. The Rendel proposals were accepted by the government and served as the basis of a new constitution that gave Singapore a greater measure of self-government.

The 1955 election was the first lively political contest in Singapore's history. Automatic registration expanded the register of voters from 75,000 to over 300,000, and for the first time, it included large numbers of Chinese, who had manifested political apathy in previous elections. The Labor Front won 10 seats. The Peoples Action Party (PAP), which fielded four candidates, won three seats. David Marshall became Singapore's first Chief Minister on 6 April 1955, with a coalition government made up of his own Labor Front, the United Malays National Organization and the Malayan Chinese Association .

Marshall resigned on 6 June 1956, after the breakdown of constitutional talks in London on attaining full internal self government. Lim Yew Hock, Marshall's deputy and minister for Labor became the Chief Minister. The March 1957 constitutional mission to London led by Lim Yew Hock was successful in negotiating the main terms of a new Singapore Constitution. On 28 May 1958, the Constitutional Agreement was signed in London.

Self-government was attained in 1959. In May that year Singapore's first general election was held to choose 51 representatives to the first fully elected Legislative Assembly. The PAP won 43 seats, gleaning 53.4 percent of the total votes. On June 3, the new Constitution confirming Singapore as a self-governing state was brought into force by the proclamation of the Governor, Sir William Goode, who became the first Yang di-Pertuan Negara (Head of State). The first Government of the State of Singapore was sworn in on June 5, with Lee Kuan Yew as Singapore's first Prime Minister.

The PAP had come to power in a united front with the communists to fight British colonialism. The communists controlled many mass organizations, especially of workers and students. It was an uneasy alliance between the PAP moderates and the pro communists, with each side trying to use the other for its own ultimate objective--in the case of the moderates, to obtain full independence for Singapore as part of a non-communist Malaya; in the case of the communists, to work towards a communist take-over.

The tension between the two factions worsened from 1960 and led to an open split in l961, with the pro-communists subsequently forming a new political party, the Barisan Sosialis. The other main players in this drama were the Malayans, who, in 1961, agreed to Singapore's merger with Malaya as part of a larger federation. This was also to include British territories in Borneo, with the British controlling the foreign affairs, defense and internal security of Singapore.

The Malaysia Proposal

On 27 May 1961, the Malayan Prime Minister, Tunku Abdul Rahman, proposed closer political and economic co-operation between the Federation of Malaya, Singapore, Sarawak, North Borneo and Brunei in the form of a merger. The main terms of the merger, agreed on by him and Lee Kuan Yew, were to have central government responsibility for defense, foreign affairs and internal security, but local autonomy in matters pertaining to education and labor. A referendum on the terms of the merger held in Singapore on 1 September 1962 showed the people's overwhelming support for PAP's plan to go ahead with the merger.

Malaysia was formed on 16 September 1963, and consisted of the Federation of Malaya, Singapore, Sarawak and North Borneo (now Sabah). Brunei opted out. Indonesia and the Philippines opposed the merger. President Sukarno of Indonesia worked actively against it during the three years of Indonesian confrontation.


The merger proved to be short-lived. Singapore was separated from the rest of Malaysia on 9 August 1965, and became a sovereign, democratic and independent nation. Independent Singapore was admitted to the United Nations on 21 September 1965, and became a member of the Common wealth of Nations on 15 October 1965. On 22 December 1965, it became a republic, with Yusof bin Ishak as the republic's first President.

Thereafter commenced Singapore's struggle to survive and prosper on its own. It also had to create a sense of national identity and consciousness among a disparate population of immigrants. Singapore's strategy for survival and development was essentially to take advantage of its strategic location and the favourable world economy.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

The Singapore People

I am at Lucky Plaza, trying to pass the time away before I go back to my brother's house at Yishun, some kilometers away. If you happen to read my previous blog, it was done in a hurry and the first-hand impressions were based on my observations on the way home from the airport.

I have been in Singapore for two weeks now, and I wish to add first-hand observations of Singapore people.

Singaporeans are mainly descendants of Mandarin-speaking Chinese, unlike the Fookien-speaking Chinese of Taiwan and Philippines. Some Singaporeans have India, British, Dutch, and Malay ancestors, and their origins are betrayed by the color of their skin and manner of dressing. These ethnic groups seem to live in harmony, and I notice them mixing together in buses, trains, swimming pools, malls, and other public places. I do not notice any racial prejudice.

With a few exceptions, Singaporeans are generally hospitable. When you ask them directions to a certain building or street, they go out of their way to show the direction. Filipinos are known for their hospitality, but at home -- not at the streets.

There are no street children, and very few beggars. The last beggar I encountered was wearing a collared shirt, shoes, and backpack. He was asking for coins. I couldn't believe he was a beggar so I shook him off.

Singaporean children are studious and and many of them were eyeglasses at an early age. Singaporean teenagers are generally carefree, and most likely they can be seen wearing their walkman cellphones. Young professionals are generally liberated, perhaps due to Western influence. Many young women wear mini-skirts and spaghetti blouses.

Most Singaporeans speak English as a second language. When I first arrived here, I couldn't understand what the taxi driver was saying -- he kept adding "ah" or "la" as the last word of each sentence. Examples: "You are new here ah.", "Would you like to buy a drink ah?", "One dollar per apple la."

There are many mission and nursing homes. Old people and wayward youths are confined to these places. The state takes care of their necessities. I have visited one which is run by the Missionaries of Charity. A Catholic priest holds mass there every Sunday with the assistance of Filipino choir singers.

When I visited a the Cathedral of Good Shepherd in central Singapore, I've noticed a handful of Filipinos dancing "tinikling" in one corner of church premises. They seem to be a happy lot.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Hello Singapore

I arrived in Singapore last May 6, and presently enjoying my stay here in the company of my brother Bong, sister-in-law Ellen, and my baby niece Bubbles. My niece is so cute - she has Fuderanan features written all over her face.

First thing I've noticed in Singapore is its clean surroundings. I bet if you will throw a piece of paper on the street you would feel guilty.

Next thing I've noticed is the flow of traffic. Vehicles take the left side of the road, not the right. The driver is seated at the right side of the vehicle, not left.

I am here at Lucky Plaza, writing this blog. This place is frequented by most Filipinos, and 7 out of 10 persons that you meet in this mall are Kababayans.

I will keep you updated.

Monday, May 08, 2006