The Straits Times | 12 September 2019
Dialogue and respectful, meaningful engagement are vital to building bridges, not walls, in societies, said President Halimah Yacob. She was speaking at a dialogue with around 50 young people at Ateneo de Davao University in Davao City, Mindanao, yesterday. "Engaging respectfully and meaningfully with diversity is not easy," she said. "Constant dialogue and engagement - just like what we are doing now - are key to building trust and understanding in a diverse society." Such engagement is increasingly important especially as the world gets more complex and people, goods and ideas move more freely across borders, she said. "The flip side is that we are also seeing societies getting more polarised, with growing discord amongst people of different ethnicities and religions. We also see extremism and exclusivity growing stronger," added Madam Halimah, who is on a state visit to the Philippines. But if one group views another as a threat, society is fragile, she noted. "It is important to overcome the forces of division and build bridges instead of walls." As part of respectful engagement, dialogue is essential to counter prejudice, intolerance and ignorance, she said. "Through speaking, listening and give-and-take, we can deepen social trust and grow bonds of friendship... (that) will ensure that we stay strong and united as a society, come what may." To promote such dialogue, Singapore hosted the inaugural International Conference on Cohesive Societies in June that brought together almost 1,000 participants from nearly 40 countries. Participants talked about the challenges to social harmony in their societies and discussed how they could forge trust and mutual understanding. Madam Halimah said Mindanao and Singapore are both diverse places in terms of religion and race, or ethnicity and culture. Both societies can also tap diversity as a source of strength, she added. "It makes our societies more vibrant and our lives richer. It is something we must cherish and protect." She also visited the Philippine Eagle Centre in Davao, which is home to the eagle that is the Philippines' national bird. Singapore is the first country to receive a pair of these eagles on a 10-year breeding loan. Later, Madam Halimah participated in a Faiths@Work dialogue in Manila, where she met more than 20 participants to discuss interfaith harmony. Faiths@Work is a regional network that brings people of different faiths across South-east Asia together to do humanitarian work. In the evening, she met overseas Singaporeans living in the Philippines at a reception at the ambassador's residence, where she said she was heartened by those who chose to look for opportunities in the Philippines and the region. She also encouraged them to remain closely connected with fellow Singaporeans overseas and at home. "Overseas Singaporeans like yourselves contribute greatly to the continued development of Singapore's future. I hope that you will continue to support one another, and stay connected with your loved ones back home," she said.