May 24, 2009
THE EX-PAT FILES
By Jervina Lao
Four years ago, my application for permanent residency was approved. A few days later, after announcing that I was a newly minted PR, a Singaporean friend came up to me and asked: 'So, when are you applying for citizenship?'
I answered that I had no immediate plans of becoming a Singapore citizen.
'Why? What's your citizenship?' she asked.
'I'm a Filipino,' I answered.
'Filipino? Your passport so useless lah! Change to Singapore good,' she said.
I think that must have been one of the rare instances that I found myself at a loss for words. I don't remember what inane reply I gave but a few weeks after that incident, a Filipino friend asked me the same question.
'Why aren't you applying for citizenship? If you are a Singapore citizen, you can travel to the United States, Australia and Europe without having to apply for a visa!' he said.
I recall feeling shocked and offended. Yet at the back of my mind, I admit that applying for citizenship would be a practical move.
Singapore is a country admired and envied by many other countries. Unemployment here is low. The political situation is stable, the government is responsible and respected.
If I were a Singapore citizen, I would be eligible for many government programmes such as the baby bonus and extra days of childcare leave. I would be able to provide my children with the best education in the world without filing for bankruptcy. Life can be pretty good here in Singapore.
So why do I insist on staying a citizen of a country where hardly anything works without having to grease palms, where unemployment is high, where kidnapping is a cottage industry and where the economy depends on the government sending out its people to other countries as entertainers, maids and seamen, among others?
If I were using only my mind, I would say the argument for Singapore citizenship is inarguably compelling.
But not every decision stems from the head. Many a decision is made by the heart. And my decision comes from the same place.
Citizenship does not only bestow benefits. It also comes with duties and responsibilities which citizens carry out willingly because of their emotional bond to their country.
Well, my emotional bond with my country runs deep.
I was born in Manila and grew up to adulthood in Manila. My immediate family and close friends still live in Manila.
In the course of my career as a journalist I have met and mingled with both high officials and rebels, business leaders and beggars on the streets.
In each encounter I have shared a oneness with them, that we are all Filipinos and that, in our own ways, we love our country.
This is a bond that took years to forge and cannot easily be replaced.
It is the same bond that perhaps my own sons will feel about Singapore. After all, they were born here, they are being raised here, they will form friendships here and when they grow to adulthood, Singapore may well be the only home that they know. And it would be right for them if they decide later on to take up Singapore citizenship.
I cannot say, however, that my feelings will never change. After all, I was married here, gave birth to my children here and have made many good friends here.
My expatriate friends often ask me: 'So where is home?'
I suppose they ask me this question as a way of asking themselves the same thing.
After eight years, it is very easy to call Singapore home.
But until I am able to look at cabbies, hawkers, cleaners, Singaporeans of all shades and stripes and think of them as my brethren, until I can say that Singapore is truly my home and my heart belongs to it, and mean it, I do not deserve a Singapore passport.
To take up Singapore citizenship simply so I can travel visa-free to other countries, or to use it as a stepping-stone to becoming resident in another bigger, more prominent country, is nothing short of mercenary.
To give up my Filipino citizenship for a Singapore citizenship just because I like the colour of the Singapore passport would be an insult to this country that has been so good to me and my family and an affront to its people, whom I have come to regard with great fondness.
The writer is an executive sub-editor with The Straits Times. She is a Filipino national and has lived here for the past eight years.