Filipino New Citizens are Not “Malays”

Back after a long hiatus and there is a wide range of interesting debate going on e.g. the White Paper on Population, the recent Speakers Corner protest against the White Paper, NSP using the White Paper protest to profile itself and flex its muscles at WP and PAP, the debate on the right of peaceful and lawful protests with the White Paper as a case study.

However one issue that troubled first and then tickled me next related to the White Paper debate, was ICA’s clarification that Filipinos who become citizens here are not labeled as “Malay” in their NRIC. Troubled if it was true, tickled as I realised that it could not have been and that it was just another silly and vicious rumour in the Internet.

There have been rumours that Filipinos were classified as “Malays”. This shook the Malays as Muslims belief right to the core. As Filipinos are Christians usually, then Malays are no longer tantamount to Muslims in the years to come. Since Malays are born into Islam culturally and it is rare and difficult for Malays to renounce Islam, almost all Malays are Muslims although not all Muslims are Malays.  More important than that anthropolical, or is it more sociological, quirk is the impact on Article 152 of the Singapore Constitution –

Minorities and special position of Malays

(1)  It shall be the responsibility of the Government constantly to care for the interests of the racial and religious minorities in Singapore.
(2)  The Government shall exercise its functions in such manner as to recognise the special position of the Malays, who are the indigenous people of Singapore, and accordingly it shall be the responsibility of the Government to protect, safeguard, support, foster and promote their political, educational, religious, economic, social and cultural interests and the Malay language.

If new citizens were given Malay status, it was politically explosive that they would be given special rights as that of the indigenous people of Singapore. That would really upset locals, especially the Malays, and aggravate xenophobia in Singapore. Furthermore, with the inflow of Flipino PMETs, that might distort the socioeconomic status of the Malays. Good or bad that Malays are seen to have broken out of the vicious cycle and have caught up on paper, is debatable.

Fast foward to the present, I don’t know when the rumours started that Filipinos were classified as Malays, but it is unsurprising that it reappeared now during the White Paper debate and before the elections in Malaysia. We know that with the politics across the Causeway, working up the Malay ground for Singapore-bashing and showing that Malays are discriminated in Singapore is usually an effective rhetoric on the undiscerning there.

Conspiracy theories aside, the government has clarified that Filipinos are not labelled “Malays”, but “Others”.  So we ask ourselves next, is the concept of Race in Singapore politics anachronistic and heightens sensitivity of a topic that we should be more open about? We were always told that race and religion are sensitive topics. Yes they are, but talking about them rather than burying our head in the sand is better for all Singaporeans. That is another topic for another day.

New citizens from Philippines not listed as Malay
Andrea Ong
Wed, Feb 20, 2013
The Straits Times
Pasir Ris-Punggol GRC MP Zainal Sapari

SINGAPORE – The Immigration and Checkpoints Authority (ICA) has dismissed categorically speculation that new Singapore citizens of Filipino origin are being classified as Malay.

There had been renewed talk among the Malay-Muslim community after the release of the Population White Paper that the Government might be resorting to such classification to ensure that the racial mix here remains constant.

During the recent parliamentary debate on the White Paper, Pasir Ris-Punggol GRC MP Zainal Sapari asked about rumours that Filipinos are being categorised as Malays because both groups allegedly share historical roots.

“Is this true? If it is true, this would mean that even though the percentage is maintained, the identity and the meaning of the label ‘Malay’ will change,” he said.

In a letter to The Straits Times Forum page, the ICA said: “This is not true. New Singapore citizens of Filipino origin are not classified as Malays.

“They are typically classified as ‘Others’ under the race category.”

During the debate, Mr Zainal and Malay MPs also raised concerns that a shrinking Singaporean core would lead to a smaller Malay-Muslim share of the population.

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong responded that the proportion of Malays among citizens will not change even as the population grows.

Communications and Information Minister Yaacob Ibrahim said on Facebook that he was glad ICA had cleared up the matter.

“I am glad that ICA has clarified today on the lingering doubts of the classification of new citizens from the Philippines.

“They are classified as Others and not as Malays as some would like to believe.

“Let us continue to strengthen our community resolve to build a better life for ourselves and our children,” said Dr Yaacob, who is also the Minister-in-charge of Muslim Affairs.

Similarly, when contacted, Mr Zainal said: “I’m glad they set the record straight.”

The issue was also raised by a participant at a forum on the White Paper by the Association of Muslim Professionals last Friday.


One response

  1. Pingback: Daily SG: 21 Feb 2013 | The Singapore Daily

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