Rowena Nieves A. Tan
I was attracted to the Master in Public Management programme at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy-National University of Singapore because one-semester will be spent in either Harvard Kennedy School in Cambridge, Massachusettes or Columbia SIPA in New York, USA. But I was convinced that the MPM programme was something worth pursuing when during my interview with Dr. Kai Hong Phua, a professor at the LKYSPP, he talked about the remarkable judicial reform in Singapore, a topic close to my heart.
When I arrived in Singapore in January 2011, I immediately felt at home. I found the Singaporeans warm and friendly albeit a bit formal. And, I found the city-state everything that the Philippines should have been or should be – neat, clean, orderly, disciplined, prosperous. But what impressed me most about Singapore was how safe it is. During my entire stay, my housemates and I never locked our house and our bedrooms. That was how safe we felt. Singapore has a rule of law that works. It’s not rocket science. Singapore simply enforces its laws and they don’t jump the queue, they let their system work. And that makes a whale of a difference.
We were only nineteen in my cohort. Three of my classmates were Singaporeans, five were Chinese, two Indians, two Malaysians, one Sri Lankan, one Indonesian, one Thai, one Pakistani, one Vietnamese and a fellow Filipino. We not only studied together, we had fun together. We were all Asians who wanted to make a difference, to improve lives and transform societies. And it felt right, it all felt good.
As a component of the MPM programme, my attachment at the Subordinate Courts of Singapore impacted deeply on my career as a judge in the Philippines and as a person. Through my more than a month attachment at the courts, I saw first-hand how hard and honest work can transform a sluggish judicial system into one of the best and the most efficient in the world.
When I came back from my amazing one-year learning journey in both Singapore and Harvard, I was infected by the Singaporean “can do” attitude. Admittedly, there’s still a lot that needs to be done in my country, but, we can do it through hard and honest work, as Singapore has shown.