The first country was at a distinct disadvantage. It was a tiny country - a city-state that was only a third the size of the second country's largest city. It had no natural resources, not even the most basic resource to sustain life: water. It's very survival was always under constant threat from its two next door neighbors, one of which was its former master.
The second country had a larger land mass, a larger population, and strong political, economic, and even cultural ties to the most powerful nation on earth, which had two large military bases that served to protect the young country from a dominant and belligerent country to its north.
Both countries were strategically located at the historical nexus of trade and commerce in the Far East.
Both were ruled by two ruthless dictators who assumed power at the same time and who wasted no time consolidating their power under One Party Rule (in essence, one-man rule). Both leaders were hell-bent on ruling their respective nations for life. Both rulers groomed their offspring to assume power after their regimes. Both were brilliant, geniuses even. The ruler of the first nation was a governance genius who gave up his life to enrich his country. The ruler of the second nation was a criminal genius who enriched his family at the expense of the nation. And that made all the difference.
The two rulers of the two countries? As you should have guessed by now, the first ruler was Lee Kuan Yew of Singapore. The second? Why our very own Ferdinand Marcos of the Philippines!
Yesterday, Lee Kuan Yew died, leaving his country as a first world nation, a model of governance throughout the world that routinely tops the governance indexes in terms of transparency and effficiency. Its political leadership and civil servants among the world's highest paid and least corruptible in the world. Lee Kuan Yew's son, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, has continued to guide the country in the same benevolent manner of his father, continuing Singapore's transformation into the economic superpower that it is today.
Lee Kuan Yew left this earth with a reputation as a political giant, the "Wise Man of the East."
As for Marcos? Marcos left his country in disgrace, booted out by his own countrymen in the 1986 "People Power Revolution." Because of his rampant looting of the economy, he left the nation as poor and even more in debt than when he first took over. He thoroughly earned the moniker "Ten Most Corrupt Leaders of the World." Marcos so thoroughly institutionalized corruption that the nation consistently ranked at the bottom half of many governance indicators even decades after his death.
In 1993, Singapore, with a population one twentieth of the Philippines, surpassed the Philippine economy in absolute size and has remained there ever since.
It is only very recently that the Philippines has shrugged off its reputation as the "Sick Man of Asia" and has powered ahead of other nations to become the second fastest growing economy in the world.
Singapore and the Philippines started on the same path at the same time and were led by similarly autocratic leaders. But those paths diverged over time. The first leader took the route to economic success and glory, the second leader took the route to infamy. How we wish it had been the other way around.