Filipinos in Singapore drop IDay celebration plans after abuse

Philippine President Benigno Aquino (L) and Singapore President Tony Tan Keng Yam inspect the honour guard during arrival honours ceremony at the Malacanang Palace grounds in Manila on April 3, 2014

Organisers of a Philippine independence celebration have dropped plans to hold it in a busy Singapore shopping district, police said Monday, after an abusive campaign by online commentators opposed to the event's venue. The Philippines marks its 116th year of independence on June 12 and a group of Filipino residents in the city-state had initially planned a commemoration event on June 8 for compatriots and Singaporeans at a shopping complex along the busy Orchard Road shopping belt. In a statement sent to AFP Monday, police said organisers, the Pilipino Independence Day Council 2014 (PIDC), had withdrawn their application to hold the event at the Ngee Ann City shopping complex. "This follows police's advice that there are public order and safety concerns with the venue proposed by PIDC," police said. It said the organisers had been advised to hold the event at alternative locations, including a free speech park and a convention centre. Organisers did not immediately respond to an AFP request for comment on whether they would go ahead with the event at a different location. Online commentators, mostly on anonymously-run local websites and Facebook pages, have heaped racial abuse and attacked the choice of venue by the organisers. Critics posting on ultra-nationalist blog The Real Singapore have characterised the commemoration of a foreign state's independence day at the centre of town as an example of foreigners overstepping their welcome in Singapore. An article on The Real Singapore said the event undermined "the significance of Singapore's own independence as a sovereign state". Other anonymous online commentators have called on organisers to hold the event within the Philippine embassy grounds. Gilbert Goh, an employment counsellor regarded as the most vocal critic of the government's immigration policies, on Monday cheered PIDC's decision to withdraw plans to hold the event at Orchard Road. "Well done Singaporeans, power to the people!," he said in a post on Facebook accompanied by a picture of a news article about PIDC's decision. Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong in April condemned the virulent campaign against PIDC, led by Goh and other online commentators, as "thuggish behaviour" and called them a "disgrace to Singapore". A large foreign presence in tiny Singapore has increasingly riled locals, who say foreigners compete with them for jobs, housing, medical care as well as space on public transport, even though the unemployment rate stands at just over two percent -- one of the lowest figures in the world. Singaporeans make up just over 60 percent of the country's 5.4 million population, with its low fertility rate forcing the government to rely heavily on guest workers to power its affluent economy. About 172,700 Filipinos work in Singapore, according to the latest publicly available Philippine government data. Recent arrivals are largely professionals and service-sector workers.