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February 06 2014

Singapore's Public Order Bill Threatens Human Rights

Teo Soh Lung from Singapore, writing for The Online Citizen, warns against the dangers of the proposed Public Order (Additional Temporary Measures) Bill 2014:

Civil rights proponents should be wary of the unfettered rights of police officers to subject them to security searches and banning orders. Those who intend to organise protests, whether it be just one person or more, may find themselves arrested or issued with banning notices! By the time they file an appeal, the police would have thwarted their intent!

The bill was drafted after a riot erupted in the ‘Little India’ part of Singapore last December 2013. It was the first riot in 40 years.

February 02 2014

Singapore Hijab Movement

Muhammad Haikal echoes and clarifies the arguments of the Singapore Hijab Movement:

Muslims are not asking for ALL women to wear hijab in ALL sectors, rather we are asking that for those ALREADY wearing the hijab, to allow them to continue wearing it.

By telling the Muslims that you are not allowing them to don the hijab in certain sectors, you risk further alienating them from the mainstream society. This would only perpetuate further the long held view of the government that Muslims are distinct and separate.

December 26 2013

Haze and Haiyan: Southeast Asia’s Deadly Disasters of 2013

A Malay couple wears a face mask while celebrating their wedding day during haze in Muar, in Malaysia’s southern state of Johor bordering Singapore. Photo by Lens Hitam, Copyright @Demotix (6/22/2013)

A Malay couple wears a face mask while celebrating their wedding day during haze in Muar, in Malaysia’s southern state of Johor bordering Singapore. Photo by Lens Hitam, Copyright @Demotix (6/22/2013)

2013 will be remembered as a year of disasters in Southeast Asia. Oil spills, dengue outbreaks, earthquakes, coral reef destruction, bus crashes, hail storms, and massive floods devastated many towns in the region. But the two biggest disasters of the year are the transboundary haze pollution which covered the skies of Singapore, Malaysia, and Indonesia; and supertyphoon Haiyan (Yolanda) which hit the central part of the Philippines.

Forest fires in Sumatra, Indonesia caused a thick blanket of smog to descend on Singapore and many parts of Malaysia last June. While it is true that forest fire is a recurring problem in the region, this year’s transboundary haze was worse than in previous years. It was bigger, blacker, thicker, and harder to clear. It caused air pollution indexes to soar to record levels in both Singapore and Malaysia.

Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono apologized to Singapore and Malaysia for Indonesia’s failure to prevent the burning of forests in Sumatra which caused the haze in the region.

Naturally, the haze gravely affected the lives of many Singaporeans and Malaysians. In Singapore, the wearing of face masks as protection against the haze has become the new normal in the prosperous city state. N5 face masks have become ridiculously expensive and many people have had to wait in line for several hours just to buy them. Workers have been advised to go home, travel has been restricted, and the young and old have remained indoors. Dozens of schools in south Malaysia also suspended operations.

Numerous apps and online portals were developed to help citizens monitor the haze situation, as well as to track the location of reliable haze masks, clinics, and shelters.

As expected, media reports focused on the impact of the haze in Singapore and other urban areas of Malaysia. Unfortunately, there was scant reporting on the situation of Indonesian citizens who have tremendously suffered from the impact of both the haze and forest fires. Riau, located west of Indonesia, is considered the ‘ground zero’ of the haze disaster.

Aside from writing about their haze experience, many netizens also highlighted the need to address the root of the haze problem. In particular, they wanted palm plantation companies to be made accountable for the burning of forests. They also pressed for greater protection of the environment.

Children preparing a big Christmas lantern in the typhoon-hit city of Tacloban in Leyte. Photo from Facebook of Max Baluyut Santiago

Children preparing a big Christmas lantern in typhoon-hit city of Tacloban in Leyte, Philippines. Photo from Facebook of Max Baluyut Santiago

After the haze subsided in the region, a series of disasters struck the Philippines. A strong earthquake destroyed many buildings in the Philippine provinces of Bohol and Cebu on October. A few weeks later, a super typhoon wrought destruction in the nearby provinces of Samar and Leyte.

Haiyan was the world’s strongest storm of the year. It was also the fourth strongest to make landfall in world history. Situated in the typhoon belt of the Asia-Pacific region, the Philippines gets battered by more than a dozen storms every year. But Haiyan was different. It proved to be a real super typhoon when it caused a tsunami-like storm surge that instantly killed thousands. As of this writing, more than 6,000 have died but the fatalities could be higher as relief workers continue to clean the debris in many villages.

The areas hit by Haiyan are among the poorest provinces in the Philippines. In fact, Eastern Visayas is the third poorest region in the country.

Many survivors have complained that aid was not properly and quickly delivered to communities. Many dead bodies were still seen lying in the streets, refugees had been begging for food, and rescue efforts have not yet reached the other remote islands of typhoon-ravaged provinces a week after the disaster.

After the partial restoration of telecommunication signals in some areas, some survivors and relief workers were able to connect online and they were able to narrate their ordeal during the storm; and also about how they coped for several days without power, food, and shelter. These were heartbreaking and powerful stories of loss and survival.

After the disaster, environmental activists pressed for more effective climate change treaties to prevent large-scale destruction in small island nations like the Philippines.

Meanwhile, Filipinos have been inspired by the global outpouring of aid and sympathy for the typhoon victims.

As 2013 draws to a close, it’s important to remember the painful lessons from Southeast Asia’s experience with the haze and Haiyan. The haze will return once more in 2014 if no regional effort is made to prevent forest fires in Sumatra. In the case of the Philippines, rehabilitation in the typhoon-hit provinces must be aggressively pursued or else the humanitarian crisis will further prolong the suffering of the typhoon victims.

December 24 2013

7 Rallies that Rocked Southeast Asia in 2013

1. ‘Million People March’ Against Corruption in the Philippines. Filipinos were outraged after a whistleblower exposed how legislators have been systematically stealing from their pork barrel allocations. Netizens called for a massive gathering in Luneta, the biggest park in the country’s capital to push for the abolition of pork barrel. Days before the August 26 rally, the president and congress vowed to abolish pork but it didn’t stop citizens from joining the event. It turned out to be the biggest rally during the administration of President Benigno Aquino III.

2. Thailand protest against the ‘Amnesty Bill.’ Various sectors, including those supportive of the government, rejected the controversial ‘Amnesty Bill’ which was approved by the parliament on November 1. Opposition to the bill emerged after it was reported that the amended version of the measure would benefit corrupt politicians and human rights violators. In particular, the opposition party said the bill will ‘whitewash’ the crimes of former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra who fled the country after being found guilty of plunder by a local court. The Senate eventually voted down the measure.

3. Anti-Government protest in Thailand. The shelving of the unpopular ‘Amnesty Bill’ didn’t end the protests in Thailand. More rallies were organized by the opposition but this time they started to demand the ouster of Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra whom they accused of being a proxy of her elder brother. Rallies have intensified in the past few weeks and protesters were able to occupy several government buildings. Yingluck announced that the parliament will be dissolved to make way for an election on February. But the opposition said they will boycott the polls and instead they wanted to set-up a People’s Council. Thailand’s political crisis is expected to deepen in the next few weeks. This video shows the size of a rally in Bangkok last November.

4. Cambodia’s post-election protest. Tens of thousands participated in several assemblies, marches, and camp-ins organized by the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party since September to protest the alleged manipulation of electoral results by the ruling Cambodian People’s Party. The ruling party won by slim majority after it took 68 seats compared to the opposition’s 55 seats. It was the ruling party’s worst electoral performance since 1998 which has been in power in the past three decades. This video shows a protest scene at Phnom Penh's Freedom Park last September:

5. Malaysia ‘Black 505’ post-election protest. On May 8, 2013, hundreds of thousands gathered in Kuala Lumpur, the country’s capital, to protest the outcome of the election which gave the administration coalition a slim majority. ‘Black 505’ refers to the May 5 General Election which was tainted by allegations that the ruling coalition committed massive electoral fraud to remain in power. The ruling party, which has been in power since the 1950s, lost in the popular voting but it still retained majority of the parliament seats. The series of protests, which spread to other provinces, was also referred to as the ‘Malay Tsunami’. This video shows the protesting crowd assembled in a stadium:

6. Rallies in Singapore’s Hong Lim Park. Thousands gathered in Singapore’s Hong Lim Freedom Park on May 1, 2013 to protest the government’s White Paper on population. The May Day protest was the second time that a big crowd gathered in the park to speak out against the population program which many Singaporeans criticized since it would mean the hiring of more foreign workers. Then on June 8, 2013, an assembly organized by the ‘Free My Internet’ movement became the ‘largest blogger-led protest’ in Singapore which aimed to oppose the government’s new licensing scheme for news websites. The video below shows some of the Singapore blogs which replaced their homepages with a black image in solidarity with the protest:

7. Indonesia General Strike for Pay Hike. Workers in Indonesia have launched a two-day general strike on October 31-November 1 aimed at pressuring the government to raise the minimum wage. Tens of thousands joined the factory shutdowns, union visits, and rallies across the country although the turnout was smaller compared to last year's general strike.

Thousands of workers left production in a Sanyo factory. Photo from Facebook page of Tia Claudia E. Mboeik

Thousands of workers left production in a Sanyo factory. Photo from Facebook page of Tia Claudia E. Mboeik

December 23 2013

Facing New Licensing Rules, Leading Political News Site Closes in Singapore

breakfastA Singaporean news site known as Breakfast Network was forced to close down after it rejected “onerous” new government registration requirements. Founded by former Straits Times journalist and blogger Bertha Henson, the site features social and political news and commentary. Henson elected to cease website operations after failing to submit documents demanded by the Media Development Authority (MDA). Despite warnings from the MDA, Breakfast Network is maintaining an online presence through its Facebook and Twitter accounts.

Under a section of the Broadcasting (Class License) Act introduced last June, a corporate entity or website providing political commentary must register with the MDA to ensure that it does not receive foreign funding. Aside from revealing its funding source, the website must submit the personal information of its editors and staff.

Breakfast Network was ordered by the MDA to register on or before December 17 but the website editor said the government’s technical requirements and registration forms contained too many vague provisions.

For its part, the MDA said the “registration requirement is simply to ensure that Breakfast Network will not receive foreign funding.” It directed Breakfast Network to “cease its online service,” including its Facebook and Twitter publications:

Since Breakfast Network has decided not to submit the registration form, and will therefore not be complying with the registration notification, MDA will require that Breakfast Network cease its online service.

MDA would like to reiterate that the content is not the issue. Rather, it is the mode of operation, i.e. via a corporate entity which means there is greater possibility for foreign influence. Should Breakfast Network Pte Ltd remain active as a company, it must not operate any iteration of www.breakfastnetwork.sg on other Internet platforms as doing so would contravene MDA’s registration requirements. These other Internet platforms include Breakfast Network’s Facebook page and Twitter Feed.

Netizens and media groups quickly denounced the “overly-intrusive requirements” imposed by the government and warned against excessive media regulation. Cherian George described the site's closure as “death by red tape.” Braema Mathi of the human rights group Maruah worried that the “registration requirement has chilled and reduced the space for free expression in Singapore.” She continued:

As a regulator tasked with developing the media landscape in Singapore, MDA should consider the substantive impact of its decisions, not just its own subjective intent. Registration requirements can operate to censor free expression as effectively as, and more insidiously than, outright demands to remove content.

Blogger Ng E-Jay accused the government of being a “highly sophisticated oppressor” by “forcing the removal via legislation” of a website that is known for advocating “constructive and critical dialogue” in the country.

MDA insisted that it merely implemented a policy that seeks to prevent foreign interests from manipulating the local media. It added that the registration procedure is not a form of censorship.

Nevertheless, the closure of a leading socio-political website has put a spotlight on what the Singaporean government calls a “light touch“ approach Internet regulation. Many groups believe this and other new policies are undermining media freedom in the country.

December 12 2013

VIDEOS: Singapore’s First Riot in 40 Years

A riot erupted in central Singapore last Sunday, December 8, after an Indian worker was killed in a bus accident. Hundreds of rioters attacked 16 police cars and burned down an ambulance in the area called Little India. It was Singapore’s worst riot since 1964.

The death of Sakthivel Kumaravelu which ignited the riot also generated an intense online discussion about Singapore’s policy of hiring foreign workers which many local residents blamed for the country’s rising social woes. Singapore has more than 1.3 million foreign workers or about 25 percent of the total population.

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong appealed for calm and insisted that the riot was an isolated incident:

This was an isolated incident caused by an unruly mob. The vast majority of foreign workers here obey our laws. We must not let this bad incident tarnish our views of foreigner workers here. Nor should we condone hateful or xenophobic comments, especially online.

This video shows the bus which killed Sakthivel.

Below is a video documenting the burning of several government vehicles:

And another video of the burning of an ambulance:

Kirsten Han hit news reports which highlighted the drunkenness of the victim:

Revealing and dwelling on the fact of Kumaravelu's drunkenness in isolation suggests that he was somehow responsible for his own demise. He could very well be, but it also smacks of victim-blaming, and doesn’t explain anything about what really happened on Sunday night.

Focusing on Mr Kumaravelu’s drinking reveals a lack of concern for a man who met a tragic end, reducing him to little more than a random drunken Indian who was probably somehow responsible for all this trouble.

Cherian George urged foreign media not to describe the event as a ‘race riot’:

The instinct of some foreign media to frame the Little India Riot as race-related may reveal more about their own prejudices than about the reality of what happened on Sunday evening. It is of course true that ethnic minorities here occasionally face subtle and not-so-subtle discrimination, but it would be a stretch to assume that the riot had much to do with that. The existence of racism doesn’t mean that the racial lens is always the right one through which to view events. If the riot reveals any deeper divisions – and most reasonable Singaporeans know that it does – those divisions are probably ones of nationality and class, not race. Not that this would be a less serious social ill; but it is important to get the diagnosis right if we are to treat it effectively.

Urban geography, not race, explains why the riot was an all-South-Asian affair.

Alisa Writes noted that riots are worse in other countries and that the Little India riot in Singapore should not be attributed to nationality or birthplace:

People also riot over soccer, apparently. Any human being who feels discontentment, frustration and anger has the ability to express it if given the right stimulants and conditions. What happened in Little India is simply a result of human behavior, and can’t be attributed to nationality or birthplace.

anyhowonly praised Singapore police for quickly restoring order in the community:

…I am especially proud of those troopers who demonstrated not only their specialist training but also their discernment and restraint! No shots were fired despite the chaos. The mob was dispersed with nary a shot or tear gas fired.

yawning bread analyzed some factors which led to the riot:

These three factors likely came together Sunday night: Brooding frustration from perceived injustices at work creating hostility to authority, resentment at auxiliary police patrols in Little India, and congestion on a damp night with nowhere to sit.

Vernon Chan advised the government to improve the welfare of foreign workers, especially the need to ease the public transportation woes experienced by workers:

…increase the fleet of public buses servicing Little India, and most importantly, institute heavily subsidised rail and bus passes for the more than 300,000 migrant workers in Singapore’s construction industry.

Yan Naung Oak, a Burmese in Singapore, probed deeper into the situation of foreign workers in the country:

The alienating forces that keep people in their shells of political correctness and civility are the same forces that make people violently break out of them. When the disenfranchised are confronted with something that violates their already narrowed turf, like the death of one of their own, the pent-up anger congeals into a mob.

Jentrified Citizen asked the government to draft a better plan on how to improve the living conditions of foreign workers:

When you have such a large number of lowly paid and over worked transient workers here, you must plan for them as human beings and not as mere digits to fulfill an economical need. Did the government work to ensure that their well-being and welfare is taken care of? Are these poor and powerless workers housed in decent lodgings, fed decent food, and given enough time to rest? Did our government plan for sufficient recreational outlets and facilities to cater to the workers’ interests and different needs?

December 07 2013

Review of University Websites in Southeast Asia

Le Minh Khai reviewed the websites of the leading universities in Singapore, Philippines, Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia, Vietnam and was disappointed with the design and content of these online platforms.

November 22 2013

General Motors’ Headquarters Move Out of China

China Law Blog's guest writer Greg Anderson commented on the recent announcement on General Motors’ decision to move its international headquarters from Shanghai to Singapore. To answer the question, the writer asked why did GM move its headquarter to China back in 2004.

In hindsight, it seems GM became overly excited about China as Hu Jintao began to halt the reform momentum inherited from his predecessors (following Jiang Zemin’s retirement from the Central Military Commission in 2004). And now that Xi Jinping may be preparing to implement some big changes in China’s economy, GM is bailing out.

Singapore Army Bans ‘Misogynist’ Lyrics from Marching Song

The Falcon Company of the Singapore army. Image by cyberpioneer,  Singapore Ministry of Defence, Flickr.

The Falcon Company of the Singapore army. Image by cyberpioneer, Singapore Ministry of Defence, Flickr.

The Singapore Armed Forces has banned the lyrics from the marching song Purple Light after a feminist group pointed out that it promotes sexual violence against women. The controversial verse of the song which is popular in the National Service makes reference to rape:

Booking out, see my girlfriend
Saw her with another man
Kill the man, rape my girlfriend
With my rifle and my buddy and me.

The army immediately responded to the complaint of the Association of Women for Action and Research (AWARE):

We understand that there have been some concerns about a ban on the popular marching song Purple Light because of an offensive verse. We would like to clarify that Purple Light has not been banned. However, steps have been taken to stop the offensive verse from being sung in the SAF, as it runs contrary to the values of our organisation and should not be condoned.

Aside from clarifying that the Purple Light song is not banned, the army also published the original version of the song:

Booking out, saw my girlfriend / Saw her with another man / Broken heart, back to Army / With my rifle and my buddy and me

The issue generated an intense online debate. Many people applauded the ban while others derided the ‘exaggerated’ reaction of feminist groups. AWARE addressed several of these criticisms:

Words are powerful. They shape social norms and our collective sense of what is acceptable. Our contention has never been that singing “rape my girlfriend” will by itself cause anyone to commit the deed. Rather, a society which treats mocking references to rape as entertainment then encourages rapists to view their acts as acceptable and causes rape victims to feel unsupported.

Typical, Really agreed that the song trivializes rape:

If singing about it “for fun” doesn’t trivialise rape, then what does? It’s worth keeping in mind that this is a song sung by thousands of men who don’t interact with anyone except other men for most of their waking hours for two years, and it’s very, very easy for even the most compassionate of people to lose sight of the humanity of those who aren’t actually in their sight.

Bay Ming Ching urged Singaporeans to fight patriarchy:

I seriously think that army misogyny does not just arise from the bottom; it is sponsored by state narratives on the in-viability of women's bodies to serve in the army and are more suited to stay at home and raise kids.

I see this as a minor victory for gender equality but I'm not celebrating because by banning the stupid verse, it doesn't address the root cause of the problem which is patriarchy.

I On Singapore appreciated the ban as a small step to change a culture which is biased against women:

National Service is a phase that all Singaporean men go through. It is important that the right values are instilled in young men while they are in service. In addition to values such as loyalty to country, leadership and discipline, effort should be made to instil respect for women as well.

Small steps like these help to shape culture and address wrong attitudes towards women at their root.

To sing songs with lyrics that advocate violence and sexual assault is an intrinsic wrong and deeply unbecoming of our young men. It is also deeply insensitive to victims of such sexual violence

Visa learned about the song during his National Service days and he supports the decision of the army to ban the controversial lyrics:

I served National Service (NS) too, I remember singing along to “kill the man, rape my girlfriend.”

To be honest, I didn’t think very much of it then. I was in a happy, healthy relationship, and rape just seemed too “far out” to possibly matter. Army boys joking about raping unfaithful girlfriends…it’s like girls joking about castrating unfaithful boyfriends, right? Harmless fun? Nobody gets hurt?

Not quite.

You see, Singaporean women do get raped. This happens way, way, WAY more regularly than most of us realise. We don’t often hear about this, because rape victims are silent and silenced. Many of us actually blame them for getting raped.

This isn’t a just-for-fun debate, we’re talking about something with real consequences, with real victims, with real pain and suffering.

But Benjamin Chiang is not quite happy with how AWARE raised the issue. He remembered how the song Purple Light inspired many soldiers:

Purple Light actually has rather moving lyrics. Crudness aside, after marching for 16km and singing these lyrics, I never felt more a soldier.

Purple Light,
At the warfront,
There is where,
My Buddy dies,
If I die,
would you bury me?
With my rifle and my buddy and me….

And when it comes to protecting our women, we will do so even if it means giving up our lives.

Think about that AWARE.

Darryl Kang insisted that the song does not normalize rape:

I respectfully disagree with AWARE. I think AWARE, and a lot of people, are reading too much into this song. It is just a song. A nonsense song that soldiers sing during marching and route march to take their mind off their tiredness. It means nothing.

Singing this song does not mean that the men tolerate and normalise the violent sexual abuse of women. It does not justify rape as a punishment for infidelity.

For goodness sake, it is just a song. By saying that this song normalise rape is like saying First Person Shooter game normlise killing. And if that is the case, then maybe we should ban all violent games. And don’t stop there. There are tons of movies and TV series that have rape or violence in the story line.

Is this the kind of nanny state that you want to live in? Is this going to do anything to solve the problem? Wake up!

Natalie KSL got frustrated with Facebook comments that criticize the decision to ban the lyrics:

I wouldn’t be upset if there were the occasional dissenting voice about freedom of speech and censorship. But it honestly scares me that the side supporting the use of the song overwhelms the other by a drastic amount.

It just makes me so incredibly sad.

Reposted bycheg00 cheg00

October 26 2013

Singapore Rejects Proposal to Define Poverty Line

Image from ‘Singaporeans Against Poverty’ Facebook page

Image from ‘Singaporeans Against Poverty’ Facebook page

Singapore may be the richest country in the world but the number of poor households living in the prosperous city-state has been rising in recent years. To highlight the extent of poverty in Singapore, the Catholic group Caritas has launched an initiative called ‘Singaporeans Against Poverty’:

‘Singaporeans Against Poverty’ is a campaign that aims to raise awareness about poverty in Singapore. It springs from our concern for those in Singapore caught in the cycle of poverty despite our economic success.

The group has uploaded several articles, photos, and videos which reveal the growing gap between the rich and poor in Singapore. Below are two YouTube videos which remind Singaporeans to be more aware and sensitive about the rising poverty in the community:

Bertha Henson summarized the message of the campaign:

Just what sort of message is it? It is to alert people here that there are poor in our midst, who do not complain about the price of cars and homes because they’re wondering about their next meal.

Curiously, a former diplomat has proudly declared in 2001 that poverty has already been eradicated in Singapore. Kishore Mahbubani wrote:

There are no homeless, destitute or starving people in Singapore. Poverty has been eradicated, not through an entitlements program (there are virtually none) but through a unique partnership between the government, corporate citizens, self-help groups and voluntary initiatives.

But an article by Roy P exposed that homelessness is still a problem in Singapore:

…it’s still hard to imagine how there are people who are homeless and sleeping on the streets even after we’ve attained first-world status, and for all the progress we’ve made over the years. As I mentioned, the irony of prosperity and economic success is that it only widens the divide between the rich and the poor, and the poor become poorer.

Meanwhile, the Ministry of Social and Family Development has rejected proposals to define poverty or set a poverty line:

A poverty line does not fully reflect the severity and complexity of the issues faced by poor families, which could include ill health, lack of housing or weak family relationships. If we use a single poverty line to assess the family, we also risk a ‘cliff effect’, where those below the poverty line receive all forms of assistance, while other genuinely needy citizens outside the poverty line are excluded.

But Kirsten Han argued why setting the poverty line is important:

The existence of a poverty line does not mean that all focus should be directed towards those who fall below it. An official poverty line shows that the poverty is an issue acknowledged by the government to exist as part of the structure of society. Once we see that poverty exists as a structural problem, more steps can be taken to address the distribution of resources and opportunities.

Refusing to define poverty doesn't mean that no one is poor; it just means that we don't get the full picture of what work needs to be done.

Blogging for Myself accused the government of advancing a wrong set of values and priorities:

It is not true helping the poor has no returns. It is about being and staying human and giving ourselves a future. Its value cannot be quantified…

This government has its values in the wrong place. They are all invested in economics and engineering but impoverished in anthropology and I haven't even begin to talk about spirituality and investing in our souls.

Nomad insisted that measuring the GDP is incomplete without defining poverty in the country:

Poverty line is a hand in hand assessment along with GDP to gauge how well a govt is running the country, you shouldnt have one without the other.

How does establishing a poverty line statistics deprive other genuine citizens outside the line? Hello? Social services are run by man, not robots. Human can be flexible. You mean you cant help genuine cases because they are above a yardstick estimate and you need to stick to the line?

Belmont Lay bemoaned the ‘poverty of Singapore’s poverty data’:

It may come as a shock to some people when you tell them that there is poverty in Singapore. But you know, and I know, poverty is universal and Singapore is definitely not immune to this problem.

But what’s truly shocking is the poverty of Singapore’s poverty data.

Singapore is a country that is known for defining everything.

But when the time comes to draw the line at who is poor, or rather, poor enough, we falter.

October 10 2013

Too Many Universities in Singapore?

Limpeh noted the proliferation of higher education institutions in Singapore. Is this good or bad for Singapore?

…has this expansion in choices been at the wrong end of the market? So whilst this expansion may have generation jobs for some people (which is a good thing), how many parents want to actually see their children end up in one of these institutes catering for the lower end of the market…

October 09 2013

Singapore’s Tuition Craze

Singapore students of Nan Hua High School. Photo from Wikipedia.

Singapore students of Nan Hua High School. Photo from Wikipedia.

More than 90 percent of Singapore's primary students are enrolled in private tuition or tutoring classes. Each year, parents in Singapore spend an estimated amount of 680 million US dollars to send their children to after-school tuition centers. Despite the government declaration that tuition is unnecessary, parents continue to enroll their children in tuition classes which have proliferated in recent years.

Sky explains how the tuition craze started in Singapore:

Tuition used to be thought of as addition coaching meant for academically very poor students and whose parents can afford to spend money on hiring tutors for what schools are supposed to have already covered. Over time, as the income level of households rise, most are able to fork out the money for such private coachings. And today, it has evolved to become a million dollars industry that if your child is not having tuition, you belong to the rare minority.

As a parent, Amie thinks there is sometimes a need to ‘outsource for tutors’ to help in the education of children:

Now I have my fair share of struggle whether or not to send my children for tuition. I believe we are unable to avoid such a day to come if there's a need. Every child's learning ability and need is different. We just have to go along with the flow and help them along the way. The stress level of the education now is different from the past and school teachers expect parents to be involved in their own children's academic progress. If we as parents are unable to help them to excel further, we have to outsource for tutors to help them.

June believes tuition is not bad for children but it can lead to a ‘mindset of dependency’:

These days, schoolers face so much stress and anxiety. So much rushing around to the next thing on their schedule, so little time to dream…

I dream of a day when “tuition” and “enrichment” will no longer have a compulsory place in the everyday experience of a school-going kid.

I’m not calling tuition inherently evil either. It still has a rightful place in society, to cater to real learning needs of different children with different struggles. But a blind subscription to the entire “if-I-don’t-do-this-my-child-will-lose-out” mentality may cause your child to be bound in a mindset of dependency for much of his growing years or even adult life.

Students who are already doing well should not be forced to attend tuition, says @mummybean:

I can understand needing tuition to get some extra help where the student is struggling and would benefit from some extra coaching, but tuition for students who are already doing well? To me it shows that our students have developed a form of crutch mentality, where they feel like they need the tuition in order to do well when in actual fact, they should be perfectly capable of managing on their own. Aside from being a waste on resources, I think it's very unhealthy.

The tuition industry is thriving because parents continue to believe in the effectiveness of tuition classes, according to Hri Kumar

Parents who believe their children need more personal attention for whatever reason will look for solutions elsewhere. Every exam requires some level of preparation and practice. Parents and students will always try and get an edge, and if they believe tuition will help, that is what they will do.

There are reports which suggest that tuition does not help. That may well be so, but the truth is that most of us are insecure, and will feel guilty if we feel we have not done all we can for our children.

Petunia Lee interviewed some parents who have kids enrolled in tuition centers:

They try their best to work within the system, spending $500+ to $1200 a month on tuition for ONE child alone. NONE of them believe that Every School is a Good School. None of them believe that tuition is unnecessary because they have personally seen their children's grades go to the top AFTER administering expensive tuition to their children.

October 08 2013

Southeast Asia: Dictatorships Are Gone, But Censorship Hangs On

An anti-Lese Majeste law protest in Thailand. Photo by Matthew Richards, Copyright @Demotix (12/10/2011)

An anti-Lese Majeste law protest in Thailand. Photo by Matthew Richards, Copyright @Demotix (12/10/2011)

Since the late 20th century, many Southeast Asian countries have moved from military dictatorships and unelected governments to representative governance systems. While these transitions have brought many improvements to national law and government accountability, certain old ways still remain.

Both off and online, censorship is still enforced in several countries through the use of draconian laws and strict media regulation. Media groups have consistently decried certain controversial laws and regulations as tools of media repression in Vietnam, Thailand, the Philippines, Singapore, and Myanmar.

Vietnam: Mass persecution of political bloggers

Thirty-five political bloggers are currently in prison in Vietnam. Continuing persecution suffered by bloggers and dissidents has highlighted the urgent need to reform laws that govern speech and online content in Vietnam.

Article 88 of the Criminal Code, which bans anti-state propaganda, is often used to detain individuals who oppose the government. Article 258 of the Criminal Code punishes misuse of “democratic freedoms to attack state interests and the legitimate rights and interests of collectives and individuals” and carries a sentence of seven years in prison. Last year, the nation's Prime Minister issued a directive ordering a crackdown on “reactionary” blogs. Broadly speaking, vague provisions in the law allow authorities to make arbitrary arrests with little structure for accountability.

Early this month, Decree 72 took effect, putting into force a law that many activists have described as the country's harshest legal offensive against freedom of information. The new regulation bans the sharing of news stories or so-called “compiled information”. But the government claims it is intended only to protect intellectual property.

“press card” system frequently is used to control mainstream media. Former journalist Pham Doan Trang explains further:

No card, no access. Without a press card, reporters can't hope to meet high-ranking officials, visit contacts at public offices or cover official conferences.

The State doesn't need to kill journalists to control the media because by and large, Vietnam's press card-carrying journalists are not allowed to do work that is worth being killed for.

Thailand: Insult the king, go to jail

Thailand's most notorious media regulation is practiced through Article 112 of the country’s Criminal Code, known as the lese majeste law, which forbids anyone from insulting the king and members of the royal family.

It is described by many commentators as one of the world’s “harshest” speech laws as it carries a minimum mandatory sentence of three years imprisonment and a maximum sentence of 15 years for a single offense. The law is often invoked to censor web content and shut down websites. Aside from webmasters and editors, even ordinary citizens have been jailed for allegedly sending mobile phone text messages that insult the royal family.

Legal scholars from Thammasat University have argued that the law needs to be amended:

…the section provides no exemption for criticism, the expression of opinion or the expression of statements that are made in good faith and in order to uphold the Constitution and democratic system of government.

The Philippines: Threat of libel charges looms large

In the Philippines, the anti-cybercrime law imposes both direct and indirect threats to free expression, but the country's criminal libel law may be the government's worst threat to free expression overall.

Under the country’s 83-year-old Revised Penal Code, libel is a criminal offense that mandates a prison term of six months to six years and/or a fine of 200 to 6,000 pesos (about 5 to 140 US dollars). But the fine is often much higher for those arrested. Veteran journalist Luis Teodoro has noted that “the law against libel has primarily been used to suppress free expression rather than to address media abuse.”

As an alternative to criminalizing defamation in the country, media advocates have proposed a broad campaign for public media literacy and self-regulation to check and expose media abuses.

Singapore: Media licenses and overt censorship

Singapore's new licensing scheme for news websites was quickly denounced by netizens as a censorship measure. Under the new rule, news websites that report on Singapore and have 50,000 unique IP views per month must secure a license and post a “performance bond” of 50,000 US dollars.

The government also maintains strict control of mainstream media. After working for three years as sub-editor in a leading Singapore newspaper, Mark Fenn exposed how censorship is enforced in the country:

Control at the paper is exercised both overtly and through more subtle means. Self-censorship, meanwhile, is ubiquitous.

…it was not uncommon for reporters to alter their stories at a very late stage because the “newsmaker” or a government department wanted to alter the wording of a quote or headline.

Myanmar: Legacy of censorship lingers on

In Myanmar, several media reforms were instituted in recent years, such as the dissolution of the censorship board, but the lingering effects of censorship are still felt and indirectly enforced. Hard-hitting journalists continue to face defamation charges and other harassment suits. The government is also accused of deliberately preventing the improvement of Internet connections in the country in an effort to control the spread of critical information.

The media situation in these Southeast Asian nations proves that political and economic reforms do not necessarily translate into greater media freedoms. Lawmakers who continue to preserve and promote archaic policies that undermine free expression must be held accountable their actions.

October 03 2013

Malaysian Communist Leader Chin Peng: Hero or Terrorist?

A mourner pays his last respects by laying flowers. Photo by Hon Keong Soo, Copyright @Demotix (9/23/2013)

A mourner pays his last respects by laying flowers. Photo by Hon Keong Soo, Copyright @Demotix (9/23/2013)

Communist Malayan Party leader Chin Peng died in Bangkok last month at the age of 88.

Chin Peng was a controversial but important figure in Malaysia and Singapore. He led the resistance against the Japanese occupation during the Second World War; and then subsequently, against the British colonial forces in the late 1940s and 1950s. As an independence fighter, he was called by some as “Malaysia’s version of Myanmar’s Aung San, Indonesia’s Soekarno and Vietnam’s Ho Chi Minh”.

But his campaign to establish a communist state which led to many years of civil war also made him unpopular.

He lived in exile in Thailand even after a peace agreement was finalized with the Malaysian government in 1989.

Malaysian officials have rejected the request to bring home the ashes of Chin Peng by claiming that he was not a Malaysian citizen. Furthermore, they are worried that a memorial could be erected by Chin Peng’s followers.

Before his death, Chin Peng wrote a letter to family and friends. Below is an excerpt of the letter:

I have given both my spiritual and physical self in the service of the cause that my party represented, that is, to fight for a fairer and better society based on socialist ideals.

I wish to be remembered simply as a good man who could tell the world that he had dared to spend his entire life in pursuit of his own ideals to create a better world for his people.

It is my conviction that the flames of social justice and humanity will never die.

But Barrie accused Chin Peng of being a terrorist:

It makes me sick to the bone whenever I read articles or news that claim Chin Peng was some hero to be worshipped. Isn't this like glorifying and making a hero out of Hitler? Or for that matter, Osama bin Laden?

Redbean explains how Chin Peng could be seen either as a good or bad patriot:

Chin Peng was a good man turned bad for fighting the British. If one is a member of the British Empire, Chin Peng was bad. If one was anti colonialism, Chin Peng was a patriot.

Koon Yew Yin echoed Chin Peng’s desire to return to his homeland:

…he yearned to return to his homeland and to die in his birth place. He also emphasised that Malaysia is a rich country and that the Chinese must work together and cooperate with the Malays to make Malaysia a better country.

Meanwhile, Azeem Abu Bakar agrees with the decision not to bury Chin Peng in Malaysia:

Should his ashes be allowed to be buried in Malaysia? No, because the tomb will be hailed by certain quarters. Indeed, the ashes could not resurrect and threaten our lives. He should be buried at sea away from anybody’s reach. It would be deemed offensive to Malaysians, even more so to the families of the brutally killed victims, should his remains be brought into the country and hailed like a hero.

Miyagi praises Chin Peng:

For all the ideological differences between Mr Ong’s comrades and the ones that built Singapore and Malaysia — I and many others consider Mr Ong Boon Wah, alias Chin Peng, a true patriot of the independent nations of Singapore and Malaysia. He fought tooth and nail for what he believed to be true and just — and held out for as long as his mind and body could muster — values we must admire

Malaysian opposition MP Tian Chua went to Bangkok to pay his last respects to Chin Peng:

I came as a friend and family and also as a Malaysian. We have our evaluation of his role in the country even if we agree or disagree over his ideology. We must recognize that he was part of Malaysian history. He and his generation have shaped what we are today. And together with other leaders in Southeast Asia, they shaped the map of Southeast Asia

Home Minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi elaborates on the decision not to allow the return of Chin Peng to Malaysia:

We know that if his body or ashes are brought back, there will be some who will deify him as a warrior-hero or make a monument to him. This will further break the hearts of our veterans and their families on top of the cruelty of Chin Peng and the communists.

MP M Kulasegaran clarifies that he is not in favor of communism but he believes the ashes of the late communist leader must be brought home to Malaysia:

I contend that the CPM's struggle against the Japanese during the latter's occupation of Malaya was valiant and their resistance to the British colonials after the defeat of the Japanese hastened the grant of independence to Malaya in 1957.

For that reason and also in deference to the terms of the 1989 peace accords, Chin Peng’s ashes should be allowed the courtesy of entry into the country and internment in the place of his wish.

October 01 2013

What Singapore Can Learn from Myanmar

Myanmar opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi meets Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong. Image from Facebook

Myanmar opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi meets Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong. Image from Facebook

Myanmar opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi visited Singapore where she attended a leadership summit aside from meeting her compatriots in the prosperous city state. During a press forum, Suu Kyi praised Singapore’s economic success but she also warned against the impact of materialism:

…what is work all about? What are human beings for? What are human lives about?

So I think perhaps Singapore could learn from us, a more relaxed way of life, perhaps warmer and closer relationships. I want to learn a lot from the standards that Singapore has been able to achieve but I wonder whether we want something more for our country.

Bertha Henson reacts:

We should do some furious thinking and soul searching.

Are we just a money-grubbing nation, efficiently churning out digits for the future workplace? Are we all about the Central Business District skyline? Is that really how other people see us? As calculative individuals who do not put much stock in human relationships?

Wonderpeace agrees with Suu Kyi:

Ms Aung acknowledged that material achievement is necessary to a certain extent to enable us to be free from want. However, there are many intangible things which material achievement could not provide – love, loyalty and spirituality…so many things that helped us survive that had little to do with material achievement. She summed up that S'pore could learn from Myanmar a more relaxed way of life, warmer and closer family relationships.

Xuyun reminds Singapore leaders to go beyond the GDP in measuring quality of life:

Aung San Suu Kyi simply pricked the bubble of our materialistic minds, exposing our emptiness beyond that magnificent façade which we built our self-esteem on and from which defines our success.

(GDP) should not be pursued to the extent of reducing quality of life for the majority of the people in the process. And GDP alone does not define the spirit and the soul of a nation.

I may not guess what exactly Aung San Suu Kyi wants for her country. But it should be closer to the heart and further from the pockets.

On Twitter, @OccupySG echoed the message of Suu Kyi:

August 11 2013

Head Shaving for Cancer Awareness in Singapore

Launched in 2003 by Children's Cancer Foundation, the Hair for Hope is a head-shaving event in Singapore that raises funds and awareness on childhood cancer. Below are the campaign objectives:

- Create awareness of childhood cancer in Singapore
- Show children with cancer and their families that they are not alone in their fight against cancer
- Tell children with cancer that it is OK to be bald
- Raise funds to help children with cancer and their families
- Build a community of support for children with cancer and their families

The shaven head “represents an understanding by an individual of the ordeals that a child with cancer is subjected to.” In 2003 there were only nine volunteers but in 2012 the participants reached more than 6,000.

hair_for_hope

Kelvin Wee, a shavee newbie, explains why he joined the event:

Cancer does not have to be a death sentence and we can do our little part by supporting this event. There are too many kids out there who need our help and we can make a difference.

Patrick Koh has been participating in the campaign for the past seven years:

I know of people suffering from cancer who has gone through treatments. But not all lose their hair. But for sure they need more financial support as the treatment is quite costly. I am shaving to show the children that it's ok to be bald. There's nothing wrong at all. I am also shaving for donations to help support these children and families financially. My parents were also cancer patients many many years ago and thank GOD they were treated.

Here are some photos of last month's head shaving event:

Photo from Facebook page of Hair for Hope

Photo from Facebook page of Hair for Hope

Photo from Facebook page of Hair for Hope

Photo from Facebook page of Hair for Hope

Photo from Facebook page of Hair for Hope

Photo from Facebook page of Hair for Hope

A post-event incident became somewhat controversial when some female students who shaved their heads were ordered by their school principal to wear a wig inside the campus. The principal cited the school’s rules that do not allow “punk, unfeminine or sloppy hairstyles.”

Alfred Dodwell asks school officials to revisit policies that restrict freedom of expression:

Can't Singaporeans be free to express themselves in ways such as shaving their heads? Must there be restraints on that too? Is a teenager with a shaven head or coloured hair a bad influence on the rest of the school?

Perhaps it is time for the education ministry to re-look at the importance of uniforms and allow schoolchildren some level of self-expression in terms of the way they dress and choose to wear their hair.

Stefanie Yuen-thio wrote an open letter to the Minister of Education about the issue:

Minister, I write to you to express my grave concern for the state of our education system. It worries me that this form of technocratic rule compliance is the mindset of our leading educators. I would hope that this is an isolated incident and not representative of our educational system.

But an anonymous commenter pointed out that the girls made a promise to wear a wig before volunteering in the event:

A promise is a promise. What kind of value will you be instilling in our next generation if one can break a promise just because one feels he/she is doing the right thing? Today is breaking of a promise, what if tomorrow is the breaking of a law?

Grace Chua criticized the reaction of the school officials:

Is bald – PUNK? SLOPPY? and who is to say what is “Unfeminine”?

Even if said that they broke the rules of “Unfeminine” hairstyle, you can't have an excuse since it is for good cause?

Seriously, show some compassion. Rules are fixed but our minds are not.

BlackValkyrie7 praised all participants of the Hair for Hope event:

Those people (especially girls) who shaved bald in this event deserves full respect and recognition. Let's be honest… not everyone is able to participate to that extent. I will never participate something like this if I'm given the choice. I understand the pain of losing hair because I experienced it before. That's why I feel that those participants are very brave and sincere. It's something not everyone can do.
Thumbs up to those participants.

August 03 2013

Singapore Media and Censorship

After working for three years as sub-editor in a leading Singapore newspaper, Mark Fenn explains how censorship is enforced in the country:

Control at the paper is exercised both overtly and through more subtle means. Self-censorship, meanwhile, is ubiquitous.

…it was not uncommon for reporters to alter their stories at a very late stage because the “newsmaker” or a government department wanted to alter the wording of a quote or headline.

July 28 2013

INFOGRAPHIC: Singapore Waste Statistics

Image from Zero Waste Singapore

Image from Zero Waste Singapore

According to Singapore's National Environment Agency, every person in Singapore generated 1,370 kg of waste in 2012. About 60 percent of the waste were recycled and 40 percent were disposed in incinerators and landfills

July 23 2013

Vincent Wijeysingha: Singapore’s First Gay Politician

Opposition politician Dr Vincent Wijeysingha posted on Facebook that he is gay making him the first openly gay politician in Singapore. He is a member of the Singapore Democratic Party member and a former parliamentary candidate. In a subsequent post, he explained his reasons for coming out:

Coming out is not the toughest bit. Well, eventually it becomes easier and easier as more and more people do. The harder thing is to begin and sustain the long and dedicated work that society needs to overcome the oppression that LGBT people experience everyday.

Dr Vincent Wijeysingha. Image from Facebook

Dr Vincent Wijeysingha. Image from Facebook

Commenting on Facebook, Choo Lip Sin praised Dr Vincent:

I now feel Singapore can be the place to grow up and grow old in, in a country bonded by kindness and fairness. You have lifted many dying souls from despair by putting yourselves in their shoes and through the hardships they face everyday.

Anyhow Hantam also congratulated him:

The reception to this disclosure has generally been very warm with many praising him for ‘coming out'. In fact he went further to state that he doesn't have any ‘gay agenda'. Personally I felt it was a very gutsy decision on his part and congratulated him personally for admitting such a personal issue just in order to silence the critics.

simple & gayforward is thrilled to learn that Singapore now has an openly gay politician:

Oh wow, we now have an openly gay politician. How amazing is that? This is huge. Needless to say (but saying it anyway), it is incredibly brave of him to do so. He has so much to lose, so much more hardship and obstacles now to face as a consequence, but he did it anyway. Major balls. I hope his family, friends, colleagues, and everyone else who know him personally especially, all rally round him and give him further strength and motivation.

But Barrie wanted the young politician to reveal if he has a ‘gay agenda’:

I have no problem if there's a gay MP in Parliament. Just like I have no problem if the MP is a Christian, Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist or an atheist. My problem with Dr Wijey is that he is the man the LGBT group is putting up, so that he could introduce unwholesome lifestyles into society through legislation. One of them is the legalizing of underage sex.

The Independent noted the importance of the LGBT community in Singapore politics:

From a political perspective, the change in government attitude reflects the new Singapore reality. The gay community and those who support their cause are generally anti-establishment and as the support for the ruling party at the elections continues to erode, this is a pressure group the establishment cannot afford to ignore

The Sun Shines on Singapore thinks that Dr Vincent’s coming out is a “double-edged sword” and warns that it would affect the Singapore Democratic Party in the 2016 elections.

July 15 2013

Riau, Indonesia: ‘Ground Zero’ of Southeast Asia Haze

The deadly haze which swept Singapore and some parts of Malaysia this year was caused by the forest fires in Riau, located west of Indonesia. Naturally, it attracted significant mainstream media attention but there was scant reporting on the situation of Riau citizens who have tremendously suffered and are still suffering from the impact of both the haze and forest fires.

Zul Othman of The New Paper praised Riau firefighters for their heroic efforts to stop the spread of the forest fire:

Politicians can talk and pontificate all they want but, on ground zero in Indonesia’s Riau province, it is the brave and hardy souls who are bearing the brunt of fires that never seem to die.

They are on the front line of the hot spots. And it is a painful, impossible task. Not least of their problems: How to fight fires with no water? How to go on fighting when your lungs are on fire?

The flames were doused, but never completely tamed. Huge patches of scorched peatland were still smouldering, emitting heat and lots of smoke.

Life Story of a Driller visited the site of the ‘smog attack’:

Last night, I stood on the one of grass fire frontier in Bengkalis, Riau (20/06/2013). People called this Smog Attack. Smog means “Smoke+Fog”. In Singapore, it’s just called haze, because it’s not thick enough.

The Center for International Rorestry Research explains why the haze has stayed for so long in the region:

The haze lingers because the fires do too. Fires are in peat around 3–4 m underground. Firefighters have to stick a hose into the peat to douse the fire

Map of Indonesia forest fires from The Center for International Rorestry Research

Map of Indonesia forest fires from The Center for International Rorestry Research

An interactive map was also developed to accurately monitor the spread of haze and forest fires in the country. David Gaveau and Mohammad Agus Salim studied the causes of the haze:

Many of the June 2013 fires are part of the processes of plantation establishment and management. The very short period over which fire incidents peaked, the high proportion of fires occurring on peatlands, typical patterns of plantation management in fire areas….support this hypothesis.

Weather conditions (including wind patterns) exacerbated the haze problem in June 2013 compared with previous fire incidents.

Fidelis E. Satriastanti called the haze affecting Indonesia’s neighbors as ‘transferred pollution’:

…measures such as logging moratorium in line with reducing greenhouse gas emissions have been taken by Indonesia to fight forest fires. But it appears as if these measures have been insufficient and have achieved limited success.

The writer also observed that authorities have been arresting small farmers and not plantation owners:

…they were only arresting small crooks but left out bigger companies who were resorting to the cheapest way of clearing land for palm oil plantations: burning down forests.

I find it quite hard to believe that the farmers could have caused this much damage. First, they rarely own the lands. Second, even if they do own lands, it’s mostly limited to two hectares.

If the president can deliver an apology to the neighboring countries, then he can certainly apologize to his own people for failing to protect this country’s future generations.

A burning forest in Riau, Indonesia. Photo by Virna Puspa Setyorini, Copyright @Demotix (6/20/2013)

A burning forest in Riau, Indonesia. Photo by Virna Puspa Setyorini, Copyright @Demotix (6/20/2013)

Unspun is quite disappointed with the slow action of Indonesian authorities to decisively address the problem:

In this age of satellite imagery what further investigation is needed to zoom in on the plantations with forest fires and punish them? What fumes is the Forestry Ministry and other Indonesian officials inhaling?

@iamdreamcatcher posted a picture of a burning forest in Riau and blamed irresponsible companies:

some of companies also have concession lands in the two islands; Sumatra and Kalimantan. it happens years ago, so I guess not just Singapore or Malaysia who's tired with the situation, we also have the same feeling for these irresponsible people …

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