Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Play Nice

Worst case scenario
If the Singapore Police Force (SPF) is still having nightmares about General Custer's last stand at Little Bighorn, it's understandable. The general was also outnumbered by Indians. This time the numbers could be bigger, 10,000 if everything goes according to plan. This time, they are decidedly determined not to be caught flat-footed (again).

Yesterday the police reminded organisers of public events that a permit is generally required in Singapore for any assembly or procession under the Public Orders Act if the gathering intends to:
a) Demonstrate support for or opposition to the views or actions of any person, group of persons or any government;
b) Publicise a cause or campaign; or
c) Mark or commemorate any event.

A former committee member of the Pilipino Independence Day Council of Singapore (PIDCS) said previous applications for a permit, such as for one similar gathering at Hong Lim Park, were submitted 1 1/2 months to 3 weeks in advance. The police guidelines do accept submissions as late as 4 days before the actual event. If partial or full road closure is required, applications must be turned in at least 21 days beforehand.

June 8 is 46 days away. Kind of early to speculate if PIDCS co-chairman Rychie Andres will stand by his earlier statement about going ahead with the big bash at Ngee Ann City Civic Plaza. Police said they have heard nothing from the organisers. The Philippines Embassy is awfully quiet too. Former president and now Manila Mayor Joseph Estrada is busy in Hong Kong apologizing for the death of 8 tourists in the August 2010 Manila hostage crisis. The loudest ringing endorsements seem to emanate from Tan Chuan-Jin, Lee Hsien Loong, Warren Fernandez, Kirsten Han - the list is long, and some quarters say, smacks of treachery.

But hey, rules are rules. The PIDCS may be simply taking a leaf from the elections department, giving the shortest notice permissible so that the opposing side has the least time to react.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

The Big Push Is On

Before the advent of the internet, the best modes of spreading news were telephone, telegram and tell-a-girl. Latter must still work, since Senior of State for Finance Josephine Teo and Senior Minister of State for Health Amy Khor have just been charged to explain the details of the Pioneer Generation Package (PGP).

Sure, everybody knows about the PGP, thanks to the close resemblance to the other hated acronym, PWP. 7 in 10 have heard of it, but 2 out of 5 could not name a single benefit. One plausible cause is that, according to the original roll-out plan, letters informing the eligibles will be sent out only in August 2014, a date closer to the rumored up-coming general election. The other reason could be because there are no real benefits of speak of.

To recap, the PGP has three main prongs:
a) Subsidy for bills at hard-to-find Specialist Outpatient Clinics (SOC);
b) Medisave top-ups, which are useless if you don't have real hard cash for the co-payment;
c) MediShield Life, which is yet to be fully defined, but guaranteed to raise health care cost with higher than existing premiums for PGP and non-PGP types.

Teo and Khor may explain it differently, but they really should consider packaging free chicken-rice during their exhortation plan. Packet meals - like those distributed to boost supporter turn-outs at election rallies - fill an empty stomach, not indigestable subsidies.

That's the easy part. The difficulty will be explaining why those born one day after 31 December 1949, or obtained citizenship one day after 31 December 1986, are entitled to zilch. Not even a cheap consolation prize like the Gift Pack they are doling out to babies born next year. For a senior citizen's rumbling stomach, even baby food will suffice.

Monday, April 21, 2014

Wit, Candour and Angst

Timothy Eugene Garlock must have felt he's not one of the welcomed visitors in our midst, now that his commentary has been deleted. As an American citizen, he can't be accused of harboring vested interest in the looming Battle Royale for Ngee Ann Civic Plaza.

Singapore is unique that its citizens are called names by its elected leaders. "Quitters" and "moaners" came from Goh Chok Tong, Lee Kuan Yew preferred "champion grumblers" (National Geographic, Jan 2010). Of late, the labels are getting uglier, "bigots" and "xenophobes" are now de riguer. Worse, when the slurs are hurled by a general presumably sworn to defend his countrymen.

Explaining the 150th World Press Freedom ranking of the mainstream media here, Reporter Without Borders did write, "in Singapore, (where) the authorities are on edge". Fortunately we do have on record someone saying, "Do you believe everything you read in the Straits Times?"

Since most of the politically incorrect posts have been redacted, we won't know what is the disgrace and abuse allegedly attributed to Singaporeans. We do know that Singaporeans are fully capable of writing with wit, candour and angst. The following samples were culled from the social media pages of u-know-who:

First the angst:
"we do welcome visitors, but not when they climb over your head.
i was at botanic gardens sometime back with my daughter for a picnic. we were in this Pavilion with out picnic mat, books n foods for about an hr. then this group of philipinos both male and female decided that they wanted the place, they started putting their stuffs around us, taking off their shoes and putting them next to our food. i got fed up, packed up and when we were about to leave, 1 guy said "THANK YOU, YOUR COUNTRY VERY BEAUTIFUL, HAHAHAHA" THE WHOLE GROUP LAUGHED. i would have punched the guy in the face if my daughter was not there.
Dear PM, this is what common folkes like me are getting from these people.
before saying i dun know what its like out there, i spend the first 10 yrs of my working life overseas in many countries, never have i shown disrespect to the people in my host countries.
BTW, national day was over a drink at a pub with the few Singaporean i can find, not a mass gathering in the heart of the city."

Then the candour:
"Dear LHL,
Please consider properly the comparison you've made with Singapore. You do realize Singapore is a small little island, which is privileged enough to be called a country. I don't know if you realize how big London and every other country on the Earth is. See... London is huge and by huge, they have cities and a thing called 'Capital', which is England. Singapore, however, is an island itself and has no such opportunity to have a capital, therefore we are known as Singapore, Singapore.
Comparing Singapore to London feels like a joke which I find extremely hilarious. Hence, please do some of us the favour of not comparing us, an island, to a country that has cities and a capital.
Someone who has thought long and hard and feels sad that you made such a comparison."

And finally the wit:
"I'm so happy to have such an understanding leader in Mr. Lee. It's good to celebrate the Independence of Philippine. However, would it be unfair to only celebrate Philippine's Independence Day? Could it be made a public holiday for us to celebrate with them? I mean, come on, let's go the extra mile in celebration. Let us celebrate for the rest of the 189 nations too. Let us not be a disgrace by showing grace to other nations. I wouldn't mind having an extra 189 days of public holidays... Let's show the world that Singaporeans are the most welcoming of all nations."

If listening to Singaporeans is such an ardous undertaking, just heed the voice of Timothy Garlock: "Remember, Singaporean citizens must come first above all other regardless of their nationalities".

Friday, April 18, 2014

Watch Their Lips

On Tuesday night, Channel NewsAsia (CNA) aired an exclusive interview with head of the Indonesian Armed Forces (TNI) General Moeldoko. His official Facebook page documented the remarks, "Once again I apologise. We have no ill intent whatsoever to stir emotions. Not at all. Second, relations between the two countries are on the mend. There've been communications among leaders. Singapore's Chief of Defence and I have spoken".

Quickly on Wednesday, Singapore's Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen - presumably the Singapore's Chief of Defence referred to in the interview - welcomed General Moeldoko's comments with much glee, and said the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) will reciprocate by resuming bilateral cooperation with the TNI.

Then early on Thursday, General Moeldoko spoke to Indonesian media at the President's Office in Jakarta prior to the start of Cabinet proceedings to clarify his views. He made it quite clear that the apology had been for the fact that the decision to name the ship was final and would not be changed. To avoid further misunderstanding, the head of TNI's public affairs Fuad Basya confirmed in writing, "the TNI Commander was expressing his regrets that the naming was final and would not change."

Before the matter is finally laid to rest, one needs to understand what Ng meant when he said "The SAF will reciprocate General Moeldoko's positive intentions". If he interpreted the positive intentions to be renaming the Indonesian warship "Usman Harun" to "Usman Harun", there's nothing new to add. After all, Mah Bow Tan did commission global branding company Interbrand to rename "Marina Bay" to "Marina Bay", and it cost the taxpayers all of $400,000. We may need NSA's record of the Ng-Moeldoko conversation to settle this.

This say-something-first, clarify-something-else-later thingamajig comes in the wake of the Financial Times interview in London where the possibility of a coalition government in some future day was first recorded. When General Moeldoko said the episode has been a "learning process", he must be referring to the lessons culled from the prime minister's clarification thought process.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

The Fight For Independence

This could be a clear, cut and dried case of harassment. Organisers of the Pilipino Independence Day Council Singapore (PIDCS) allege they are being harassed by anonymous callers demanding the cancellation of the June 8 takeover of the Ngee Ann City's Civic Plaza. The Protection from Harassment Act 2014 was tabled, and passed, in Parliament on 3 March this year. A fine of up to $5,000, a jail term not exceeding 12 months or both awaits those who engage in stalking, defined as activities which an offender should reasonably know would result in harassment, alarm or distress.

The aggrieved PIDCS say they do not plan to make a police report because doing so may escalate tempers into an event of seismic proportion. Think Little India instead of Tahrir Square. The cops may demand immediate reinforcement of 1,000 more men, and the only way to meet this supply at short notice is to fly in the expensive but reliable Ghurkhas. And then there is the potential disaster of epic ramification, the banning of alcohol along Orchard Road. All we need is  some minister to make a site visit and sniff the air.

Sensitive nostrils aside, there is this provocative use of the Marina Bay Sands (MBS) and Singapore Flyer silhouettes to promote the carnival. Both symbols were also showcased prominently in the "cringe worthy" video sponsored, and quickly taken down, by the Singapore Tourism Board (STB). This has to be another clear cut case, of copyright infringement. Unless MBS has given their full hearted endorsement, in view of the large number or foreigners employed at their establishment.

The use of the "interdependence" word may be key to the heightened emotive reactions.  An independent Singapore should be able to stand on its own feet, without the crutches of alien elements. But that's not what Baey Yam Keng implied, "The Filipino community has been contributing to Singapore in the workplace and helping to take care of Singaporean families". Grossly out of touch, Baey is blissfully unawares that Burmese and Indonesian domestics are now preferred as they are less likely to demand their day off and complain about having to wash the family car. And contribution to the work place sure sounds better than taking away Singaporean jobs.

Independence warriors don't give up easy - children of the EDSA Revolution are involved here - and the June 8 gathering will be happening, come rain, sun or haze. Forget about Geylang, Ngee Ann City's Civic Plaza is the hottest place to be.