Friday, April 30, 2010

Singapore Sex Education: It's not just about sex

In the past couple of days, it is reported the Education Ministry (MOE) has granted six organisations the permit to provide sexuality education to schools. Four of those have Christian affiliations. These affiliations include that of Cornerstone Community Church and Focus on the Family.

What makes public school sexuality education a contentious issue is not sex itself, but rather that of religious stakeholderism’s relationship with the state. The Singaporean government is less concerned with sexuality education itself than its dealings with various groups that have potential political influence. In other words, the concern over sexuality education in Singapore belies the governance of religion in a secular state.

It is here where I would slightly overemphasise and overestimate the role of religion in Singapore.

As religions provide a set of rules and regulations for moral conduct, with the aim to create moral, social and ultimately cultural and political homogeneity within socio-religious and/or geographical boundaries, sexual behaviour and its regulation are seen as important items on the menu of morality.

For instance, as marriage is a cultural ritual sanctified by religion and has meaningful socio-religious symbolism inscribed upon it, pre-marital sex would be seen to be disruptive and challenging the religious order. With a legal and social history moulded in the image of religious doctrine, we derive fear and guilt from the act of pre-marital sex.

Singapore is undoubtedly multi-cultural, multi-religious and multi-valued, but as we navigate our way through the pleasant sugar-coated rhetoric, we see the imbalances and stratification of culture, religion and values. While each culture, religion and set of values has a stake in society, the political process and governance, each speak with a different voice and each voice is held by the state with different levels of importance.

In my opinion, I have this impression that the secular state of Singapore fears religiosity (maybe religionism to some extent). The secular-by-definition government is the worrisome landlord whose tenants are so (potentially) troublingly diverse. This is a secular state that appears to me to listen a lot more attentively to those with faith than those who are faithless or have no religious affiliation. History shows that those with a religious affiliation have one more reason to be better organised and to commit unrest, or to an extent, violence.

Another speculative view pertains to demography. There is a more than proportionate representation of Christians in Parliament, and in the upper social strata of Singaporean society. When you are in the upper social stratum in a society like Singapore, you have a slightly higher stake in the political and economic order, both of which are intimately intertwined.

Just like the legitimate fear of the People’s Action Party ascending to stake a claim in defining “democracy” in Singapore, there is the fear of the batch of fairly well-educated middle-to-upper class ethnic Chinese Singaporeans of Christian faith ascending to stake a claim in defining “diversity”, “multi-culturalism”, “multi-religious” in this island nation.

Like in the domain of Singapore politics, wherein other voices (are made to) appear to be less significant, less important or simply irrelevant, I fear that in the socio-cultural domain of Singaporean society, amidst all the rhetoric and narrative of “diversity”, people of non-middle-to-upper class, non-Christian, non-Chinese, non-receivers of higher education, may have a lesser voice. It may not even involve high-handed holier-than-thou bigotry, but plain simple taken-for-grantedness on the part of the politically and socio-economically privileged Singaporeans that the worldview and moral doctrine they hold and subscribe to, has universal application, or in less extremist allegory, is the “natural order of things”.

When all these are taken-for-granted, “demographic outsiders” who want to engage in socio-political dialogue have to do so according to the terms and conditions of the privileged. And some concerns might be lost in articulation along the way, or seen as less than legitimate.

The regulation of sex is a function of the regulation of morality, which in turn is a function of ideological control. And if we take religious ideology into consideration, the regulation of sex serves to facilitate the regulation of morality, which serves to facilitate the maintenance of a religious and ideological order. All you have to ask yourself is, “Whose order are we striving to maintain?”

Take for example the act of masturbation. What is masturbation in an acultural ahistorical social vacuum? Masturbation, as defined in terms of its function, serves to provide gratification for the individual. In its form, it mostly involves acts by the individual stimulating his or her erogenous bodily zones.

Social and cultural norms and ritualistic practices, which inform religious norms and vice versa, place judgement on the act of masturbation. Norms enter the domain of the act of masturbation and colour it with meanings, claiming, conquering and defining its functions in the terms according to a desired social/religious order.

In history, the regulation of desire is always social. In the economic domain, the postponement of desire and leisure is a rationalised choice in the industrial period. In the socio-religious domain, individual desire is assessed to be at odds with religious doctrine, which is often masked as the “greater good”, a narrative that enables individuals to (re)rationalise and reprioritise their individualistic decisions.

We cannot seem to be able to escape from history, leaving sex and religion eternally entangled. There are those among us who reflect Victorian era morality and/or puritanical values in our approach to life and sexuality. These moral guidelines with which they align themselves are so phallocentric they make lingum-worshippers blush. There is the overemphasis on regulating penis-related activities that the sexuality of women and children (up to 14, 16, 18, or 21 depending on your legal and social norms) are made invisible. As a result, we get the “how not to do it” for males and “how not to get it” for females in most sex education syllabi. Individual gratification and sexual pleasure (and their neutral information, unless tainted by religious dogma) are denied to men through preachings of abstinence and deity-approved monogamous marriage, and denied to women through the great veil of female asexuality.

Coupled with the “sciences” of yesteryear, wherein people saw non-heterosexual behaviour as the ultimate threat to marriage and the family (I think adultery is a bigger one), we have created foolproof justifications for the discrimination of homosexuality and other sexualities. It has been foolproof for centuries, just not from this one. Because sex has an intimate relationship with religion, I believe that religion is a critical factor in the policing and judgement of sexuality.

The truth be told, that there are many truths out there. One need not to have religious affiliation to declare one’s worldview and set of values are the truth, or are derived from one true source. This is where it becomes challenging for persuasions and orientations of any kind to coexist in a limited space. Genocide is an archaic and unjustified solution in this day and age, but there remain many solutions such as conversion and democracy.

The funny thing about democracy is that 51% will have a bigger say than 49%. Majority wins. This is where ideological conversion comes in handy. Conversion need not only be a cold-calling hard-selling process, but so long as social infrastructure is put in place for a people, rendering them more receptive to the embracement of a particular ideology, the seeds are sown. These infrastructure include pop culture and ideological-centric (e.g. monotheist-centric) communication and rationalisation.

This gives the non-religious and polytheists the smaller share of the cake (yes, we like cake because it has been put on the menu by Wong Kan Seng). Most of these segments of society are co-opted into the grand narrative of “family values”, “heterosexual family as basic unit of society”, “pro-family” and “every time I continuous touch myself that way an angel dies”.

I still find it ironic that MOE wants to regulate sexuality education in a Singapore with different stakeholders. In the instance it is successful in regulating, which stakeholder will benefit more? Which stakeholder will have the larger slice of the cake?

That said, I still advocate a polycentric approach to sexuality education in Singapore. Different stakeholders get to participate, and their views get to be represented through the syllabi. At the same time, the young will be exposed to the different perspectives on sex and sexuality across religions and cultures in Singapore, along with a dose of (a more neutral) science. For example, a student will get to learn about the abstinence as a value in Catholicism which values the institution of marriage, contraception as a means of safe sex, not only from disease but from unwanted pregnancy and masturbation as a means to deal with sexual tension. These are all provided the tools necessary for the young to be prepared in the event they get into or want to get out of certain situations.

Instead of providing material that morally judges an act to be right or wrong, the material can identify the religions and cultures that deem the act to be right or wrong. This way, the young not only learn about sexuality but also the diversity of opinions of sexuality. Any way, should Singaporeans not be well acquainted with the concept diversity?

Issues and situations should be described objectively in their form, and their functions and implications openly discussed. For instance, it is no big a deal explaining what promiscuity and sexual experimentation is. But people with different persuasions and orientations, and different dogma, tend to discuss the functions and implications of these items in ways that benefits their cause and maintains the social and ideological order they so desire. And most of the time, in doing so, they irresponsibly masked their message as an objective universal piece. A polycentric approach to sexuality education will credit opinions and views to specific ideologies, such that the young who receive this information will be able to decide for themselves what fits their own worldview.

If a minor wants to have sex, I would rather he/she knows the options available to him/her: Among many other options, 1) Knowing when to say “no”, or to negotiate, 2) the use of contraceptives, 3) knowing how to derive bodily pleasure.

Why are we so concerned about the young having their sexuality or having sex? Is it because they do not know better? Is it because they do not deserve it?

If we look at history again, it is industrialisation and Victorian morality (coming from a British colony, we cannot run away from it) that help form the idea of childhood and children, and the asexuality of children. We still carry this idea to this day. As a result, and with the support of science du jour, children (and teenagers) are deemed incapable of decision-making. These get legally enshrined, which explains the cross-cultural/legal definitions of child, adult, minor, etc. As we continue to view and treat the young as how it has been socially and legally prescribed, we withhold information from them and release it to them as they age. This signals the means of social engineering we have become accustomed to.

The democratic government moves with ideology. As much as some Singaporeans will say that our government strikes fear in the citizenry, I believe the government equally fears the people. Some segments of the Singaporean population hold opposing and polarising worldviews, opinions and ideologies that it presents the ruling party with a tough job in governance and policy-making. They go not with the “majority”, but with the groups that have potentially considerable political, economic and social influence. These groups have already access to education, economy, their communities and affiliates and so on.

The government, in my opinion, is politically conservative in the sense it errs on the side of caution by aligning itself with the discourse and ideas of the groups that may be better placed to shape the social, political and economic landscape and order of Singapore.

That is not to say the government is by default morally conservative. Most democratic governments are primarily politically conservative, as they seek to win majority vote. And if it so happens the moral ideology of the majority vote borders on (morally) conservative, as they may be informed by religion and norms that maintain an order desirable to them, the government takes after this ideology. In order to retain, maintain and win support for continuity in power, the government will use the nationalist ideological narrative to enforce policy and norms, which on an unconscious level to many, echoes the moral ideology of the voting majority.

It does not help when the PAP Members of Parliament have an overrepresentation of Christians. What otherwise seems ideologically subjective is passed off as neutral, objective and natural.

Sexuality education is just a footnote in the discourse. There is always this monotheist-informed urgency and the need to “save” that infiltrate and come to characterise political decision-making and policy-making. There may or may not be a connection, but there is a coincidence when the approach to sexuality education is oriented towards protection, which appears to be a subset of a specific monotheist-centric idea of salvation.

Sex education is a proxy war of ideology. I believe the situation we have in our hands is that of the religious imperative negotiating its way into ideological dominance in a multi-valued secular democratic state whose government is a lot more fearful than the citizenry thinks.

This intangible and invisible fear manifests in a playing field, the terrain and rules of which favour the segment of the citizenry the government fears (or fears aggravating). Any ruling party of Singapore is and will be there not only because of sturdy social and political leadership, but also economic leadership. The mandate to rule will be quickly crumble when economic leadership is less than satisfactory. There is a relationship, almost symbiotic, between the state and the segment of the citizenry that has economic influence. If this is aggravated, the state’s position is affected. This could be a reality, or not.

The state needs to stand up on its own and say to everyone, “Look, no one community view is more legitimate or more important than the other,” and act like it means it. For example, it cannot continue to dismiss and aggravate the Singaporean sexual minority community just to appease religious groups. It is religion, not sexual diversity, that threatens political power, such that the ruling party seems to be interpret the constitution in way that favours the groups it fears more. This will continue to persist, regardless of whether or not PAP is in power.

Race and religion are the sacred cows given our history, and our current socio-political and cultural context. But their bubble-wrapped protection extends to policies and decision-makings that slant towards a particular direction.

While we need a government that is firm and neutral, we also need various stakeholders, religious and non-religious to step forward and speak up. We need platforms that do not discriminate against any of these stakeholders, nor deny them their representation and/or participation in the political process. In the footnote that is public school sexuality education, we need an objective presentation of facts, descriptions and explanations, and some moral advice/judgement so long as their ideological affiliations are identified.

Since the domain of public school sexuality education is a microcosm of the struggle of ideological dominance by some socio-religious communities (“this is bad” versus “this is neutral” disputes), whatever decision or action that is taken will reflect the state’s position and relationship with these communities. Only your position as a citizen and stakeholder will tell: Whether to you the government is an oppressor, a victim or a friend.

Speaking up in Singapore is not good enough. We need constant and continuous dialogue. And more importantly, we need to create many conducive platforms for dialogue. Unfortunately, there is still a lot more to be done. We need minds to be humble and reflexive, and able to understand the implications of their privileges and actions in a multi-valued society. And if the policy on public school sexuality education is anything to go by, we are not there yet. And don't look to the government to fix everything, because a government is only as mature a its people(s).

But I'm sure if we all cared enough, we can make Singapore a place of real "diversity", a diversity of persuasions, opinions and orientations where there is mutual understanding and respect, where government and people will not fear discussing issues pertaining to this diversity, and of course, where our sex education is holistic.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Censorship Review Committee focus group afterthoughts

The following is my email to the Censorship Review Committee (CRC) following the focus group they organised, and of which I am part.


Thanks for organising the focus group.

There are a few more points I would like to make.

I find it ironic that we are striving to establish one set of regulations, codes and practices for a country of multiple and heterogeneous values. So, ultimately, I feel it is important to account for and state whose values actually dictate the CRC proposals and recommendations.

Are parents the only stakeholders whose opinions hold more weight? I believe that policy should not take up the parenting mantle, because you have media consumers of different backgrounds and values. Instead of blanket implementation with regards to content regulation and censorship, I feel the CRC can propose a co-regulation that involves active participation of parents who dare to be responsible for their children, as well as educational materials to empower not only parents, but children too. Parents and schools can already teach their children their own notions of right and wrong, and the media should resist the temptation to be paternalistic.

With co-regulation, we actually act like we are truly a multi-valued society – we give options. For parents who feel their children are sufficiently well-adjusted, they can do without top-down content regulation and censorship. Parents can be told they have the choice to take up the filters offered by ISPs.

Does the CRC subscribe to archaic media theories that propound the one-way relationship between all-powering influential media and cultural dopes that are viewers?

We may be influenced by legal and cultural norms where children are deemed incapable of being accountable, responsible, making proper decisions and giving consent. However, these children live in the same socio-technological environment we are living in, and are cultivated with some degree of information literacy.

I’m sure the CRC was formed because it would be in a better position compared to the relative inflexibilities in action and mindset of the governmental bodies for media regulation and the industry. I urge the CRC to be bold and be the first to step forward with proposals that champion media and information literacy. The CRC is not obliged to follow any body’s agenda and rhetoric.

With regards to the focus group, I refer to 2 issues discussed.

Chinese dialects in programming. I feel we should allow for various Chinese dialects, other than Mandarin, to be part of programming. We should not let “multiculturalism” be determined by the government, and I am confident the CRC understands that it is and should remain independent of the government. These dialects neither harm any one nor destroy the sacred social fabric of our society.

Portrayal of homosexuality. It is shocking to find out that the chairman of the CRC said that it would be a progressive step to allow for positive portrayals of homosexuality. I find it is merely a correction of the intolerance that run through the veins of media policy-makers.

It is unethical and bigoted to decree the illegality of positive portrayals of any minorities in our society. The media has a role to truthfully portray society and should not distort reality with denigrating stereotypes and negative portrayals. I don’t know what is more offensive: the media depiction of a happy gay couple or the intolerant mindset of policy-makers who feel these bunch of people are less human.

If the CRC and MDA ever want to invoke the rhetoric of “values” or “Asian values” in our society, I urge you to do some research on these values, and also shed light on your rendition of “values”. Are these values predominantly middle class ethnic Chinese Singaporean Christians of higher education disguised and marketed as universal?

“Asian values” has its roots in East Asian economics and politics, a political rhetoric in response to American (therefore Western) concerns of paternalistic and authoritarian political regimes, and interventionism in various economic domains and industries. It is only in the 1990s that “Asian values” took on the meanings associated with sexual morality, as inserted by the ruling elite, which coincidentally comprised persons who subscribe to a Christian middle-class worldview. Surely the positive depictions of homosexuality will not lead to people becoming homosexual.

The comparison with violence is different too and whatever studies you may believe to substantiate these are all archaic and do not account for other variables such as cultural, historical and economic factors. Similarly, for instance, the positive portrayal of Hinduism in free-to-air channels will not result in a widespread conversion to Hinduism by all Singaporeans.

What is ironic is that these conservative views and values are derived from the American conservative Christian movement that swept through Singapore from the 1980s onwards and have come to fruition.

So instead of using an abstract concept to justify non-action or a uber-conservative stance that somehow appeals to a citizenry of a specific demography, I feel the CRC should step forward and make the change, because it is in a better position for change. The government is conservative and they cannot be faulted for that, and the industry is set in their ways because of some degree of governmental influence too.

There are also stakeholders in people who are vocal enough to invoke the illusion of a “conservative moral majority” to bargain their stake, although the idea of a “moral majority” is rather loose in a multi-valued Singapore. I urge the CRC to go horizontal and not only prime media as the singular critical variable of policy.

If media content regulation and censorship involves putting the microscope on media and practices, the CRC would have failed from the beginning. The efforts of media regulation dovetail with education and the making of clearer distinctions in political and regulatory rhetoric, such as “values” and “majority”.

The easy way out would be to siphon and funnel our diversity into one singular set of regulations and practices that benefit a certain demographic more than another.

I wish you guys all the best. My recommendations are for not a change in your paradigm and approach, but for some reflexivity towards your subjectivity, context and methodology.

Ho Chi Sam

Quoted: Sexy, yes. Sleazy? No way.

(Quoted in The New Paper. April 13, 2010)

Sexy, yes. Sleazy? No way
Movie's producer says photos are about how couple deals with cancer.
by Benson Ang

IT IS a movie with a serious message.

But at least one teenager who caught a glimpse of the movie’s publicity stills thought it was about sex.

If the stills from the upcoming Singapore-made Mandarin movie Ge Ai (Love Cuts) were meant to raise eyebrows, they certainly succeeded.

When shown the photos, Miss Candy Pang, 19, said: “If I didn’t know anything about the show, I’d immediately think it was an R21 movie, and not one about breast cancer.”

Indeed, the movie’s message is about early and regular checks against breast cancer, said the Health Promotion Board (HPB), which funded Love Cuts.
It is not known how much HPB paid.

The movie, now in production, is scheduled to be released in October, and stars Zoe Tay.

The stills, released to the press and published in Lianhe Wanbao, show the actors Christy Yow and Allan Wu posing naked on chairs, holding each other, and standing back to back.

Said Miss Pang, an administrative assistant: “When you see a man and a woman naked together, what else can happen?”

Love Cuts is about the trials and tribulations of a young woman who realises she has hereditary breast cancer.

The HPB spokesman told The New Paper: “The photographs are of the characters that Yow and Wu play in the movie, that of a couple who have decided to get married and are posing for photographs to mark their decision.

“This scene...develops the story of the couple.”

Too ‘deep’?

But graduate student Ho Chi Sam, 26, felt the message behind the nudity shown in the stills may be too “deep” or “profound” for the general public to understand.

Said Mr Ho: “They might take the nudity at face value, and automatically equate this to offence.

“This is because the pictures do not directly communicate the idea of the trials and tribulations of breast cancer.”

Mr Ho felt that a picture of a woman who has undergone a mastectomy might be more effective at highlighting the issue of body confidence and cancer.
Question is, would it be as effective?

Miss Pang said the last movie she watched about breast cancer was the Japanese movie April Bride, a romantic drama about a young woman’s last days after being diagnosed.

Her perception from the Love Cuts stills was that the film may be presenting a “different” side of the illness from April Bride.

The use of nudity could suggest that sex is being used to sell Love Cuts, but she finds nothing wrong with the approach, she said.

“Sex attracts people’s attention. If you use normal pictures, people won’t bother about what the movie is about. You need something to make viewers ask questions and be interested.”

When The New Paper told her the idea behind the stills, she acknowledged that the idea was “not bad”.

The HPB spokesman added that the key message of the movie is “the importance of early and regular mammography in saving lives so that women will be encouraged to go for screening”.

Mr Lim Teck, 35, managing director of Clover Films, which produced the movie, explained that the photos “are consistent with the nature of the script”.

In the movie, Yow’s character is 27, and has already been diagnosed to have cancer. But she decides to proceed with the nude photo shoot anyway.

It was also after her doctor had recommended the removal of one of her breasts.

Mr Lim, who is also the movie’s executive producer, said: “The decision to take the nude wedding pictures was made before Yow’s character knew that she had cancer.

“After they (the characters) found out, following through with that decision (is) meant to be a show of solidarity and love between the couple, and a commitment to embrace life as before.

Big questions

“The character is thinking: ‘I’ve such a beautiful body, such a beautiful career, such a beautiful boyfriend. And now, I have breast cancer, so how am I supposed to deal with it, and will my boyfriend love me for who I am?’”

He added that the scene’s objective is to give some depth to the characters.

“The pictures show her resilience and bravery in fighting breast cancer.

“They are not meant in any way to be sleazy. In fact, I actually take offence that people (might) think the photographs are sleazy.”

He said while the film’s rating is still unknown, he is aiming for a PG rating.

Mr Jansen Siak of public relations agency Word Of Mouth Communications said: “I feel they (the photos) are nicely and tastefully shot, but yes, the pictures will certainly raise a few eyebrows.

“It does reflect the trend of real-life couples who opt for such unconventional wedding pictures to capture their bond and commitment. There is nothing wrong with it as it’s really a couple’s personal choice.”

Student Cheryl Ong, 21, disagreed.

“I think the distributors should realise that the perceived message and intended message communicated to the public can be very different.
“Nudity, even partial nudity, is not widely accepted in Singapore.”

A Golden Village spokesman told The New Paper that it seldom focuses on sex in marketing campaigns for movies, unless the movie is raunchy.

But he added that it was too early to comment on the film because he had yet to see the official movie poster.

It is not known if the stills will be used in promotional material or posters.

-Additional reporting by Lim Wei Li and Vinna Yip. The New Paper

Friday, April 9, 2010

2sides: Mental health awareness among youths

I will keep this brief (nothing is brief when it comes to me, huh? The cows should be coming home soon). A group of Nanyang Technological University students are spearheading a project raising awareness on mental health and wellness among youths.

Their project is located at

The message is communicated through a fictional character, as you will notice, who expresses herself in writing and music.

This I hope, will be one of many drives and campaigns to bring to the fore mental wellness for the young in Singapore.

Mental illness, such as depression or bipolar disorder, is highly stigmatised. But with some education, we can approach it positively and respectfully.

On the medical or psychiatric side, an affected individual may encounter chemical imbalances or simply succumbs to a vicious cycle of depression.

There are also environmental factors that contribute to mental illness too, such as high stress conditions, which cause anxiety, or prolonged spells of loneliness.

One's mental health depends on a positive and supportive environment. Most mental illnesses too can be treated with medication and counseling.

For youth mental health, most of us often dismiss this as just an angsty phase of mood-swings and overlook what could be legitimate issues such as bipolar disorder, schizophrenia or manic depression. Perhaps we all could be a little more sensitive and sensitised to mental health.

There will always be help and we should not be afraid to seek help through these channels when we or a close relative or friend are in need.

There is no shame in seeking help. Some insensitive and ignorant people may be impatient, laugh or make wisecracks at mental illness, but they are only as mortal as their opinion. With education and awareness and a maturity that comes with them, we can overcome its stigmatism.

Friday, April 2, 2010

When in Singapore, do as Romanians do

When in Singapore, do as Romanians do. Okay, this title has probably little to do with what I'm going to write about, but I kind of like it.

Former Singapore-based Romanian diplomat Silviu Ionsecu may now have 13 charges brought against him, but I doubt he will cooperate. He might, as he already have, suggest this is an elaborate scam to get him, but it appears that the state coroner and perhaps every relevant government body has made the extra effort to be sensitive, respectful and transparent as possible, knowing that international affairs could be soured because of this case.

Singapore, as always, wants to be everybody's friend, and does not seek confrontation. Perhaps most of the energy is directed at our local "dissidents" instead, as we found out about the five leaders and supporters of the Singapore Democratic Party who had their acquittal overturned by the high court judge.

The laws that are put in place for a society reflects the ideals of a society (constitution too, of course). Whatever is outlawed is deemed (sufficiently) harmful to society. Not only has sufficient/significant harm to be established for the law to punish a (to-be)criminal, but also the intent to harm.

I am no lawyer and I do not quite understand how the law on illegal procession is being enforced. The focus appears to be on the manner and intent of "committing" the act itself, rather than investigating whether there was any harm or intent to cause harm, issues that the law was set in place to address.

We have laws in Singapore that water down our constitutional rights. For instance, you have to apply for permits to exercise your constitutional right, and that we have section S377A in the penal code that discriminates against the right to have adult consensual homosexual sex.

The "procession", or walk, of the 5 persons is an exercise of their right, which constitutes no harm to society. Neither have they caused major disruptions nor disturbed the public peace. Superficially, it was harmless. The illegality of processions stem from the potential threat it may cause, so we can think of this law as an attempt to nip the possible problem of public disorder in the bud.

However, it appears the courts are more occupied with the aesthetics of the illegality, which me, as a layperson, do not quite understand. I know they are trying to prove the act of walking together constituted a procession, but surely the illegality of it rests not only on the act itself, but also the intent to cause significant harm.

The manner in which the 5 carried out their "activity" did not constitute harm, so how can they be punished under this law?

I think enforcement can be better if the law on illegal procession could be further clarified. I find this law questionable, because the act of a procession on its on does not inherently constitute harm. It only becomes illegal when there is a disruption to the public order.

What makes the act illegal is probably the absence of a permit. The 5 persons involved did not apply for a permit, but then again, are we trying to convey the message that we need a permit to "break" a law?

I am in need of some enlightenment here.

The Ionescu case and the case of the 5 SDP leaders and supporters show us two sides of public perceptions of our law enforcement. On the one hand, it seems to me we are steadfast and transparent, but not quite persistent enough; on the other, it seems to me we are arguing over small details just to establish the illegality of an act, and not going to the root of the problem that is whether there is significant harm and intent to harm at all.

The Ionescu case dovetails with growing xenophobic sentiment Singaporeans harbour against the "evil" foreigners and foreign talents. It is as if our father has a new wife and now we have younger step-siblings to share our toys with. It has compelled the government to carefully and clearly communicate its stand and policies on Singaporeans, permanent residents and foreigners, often highlighting that Singaporeans will be a priority and always get the better end of the deal. I hope they tell this to the Singaporean elderly rubbish scavengers that pepper the heartlands.

Laws and policies are aimed to primarily protect the people and their interests, which in turn protects the government's interest of peace and continuity (in power), not the other way around. We often see the invocation of laws and policies, and their enforcement, against a few known persons and groups who challenge the ruling party.

With Ionescu, bodies have been hurt and a life has been lost, apart from traffic violations and other legal transgressions. Take traffic violation for instance. Traffic rules are there to ensure safety and without them, people can get hurt, and private and public property can be damaged in an accident. Traffic rules also serve as regulation of traffic flow, because there are economic implications if this regulation is poor.

Our public funds are directed to the monitoring of state-identified dissidents, otherwise how can on-the-ground enforcement be so swift? Yes, we have alleged "concerned members of the public", alleged homeland security spies and agents, and vigilant officers of law enforcement who have monitored and reported on their movement. What a waste of public funds. Furthermore, surely these advocates of democracy are non-violent and have no intent on bloodshed.

And speaking of public funds being used for law enforcement, we did little to prevent Ionescu from leaving the country. He has blood on his hands (on hindsight, to be fair) and he still managed to leave Singapore.

I don't know what to say. What is fair? What is justice? Maybe within the same geographical space, there are different standards applied when a law is broken or appears to be broken. We exercise surveillance on the wrong people, and mind you, money is needed for such surveillance.

I really wonder how to ordinary policemen and policewomen feel when they are being tasked to keep an eye on state-identified political dissidents, when they could actually be doing more meaningful things. The only threat of public disorder would be a flurry of journalists and reporters flocking to the "dissident". Ordinary members of the Singaporean public couldn't care less about them. That is our culture and if a charge of causing public disorder is brought against the "dissident", it shows how the government does not understand Singaporean society. Maybe I'm wrong.

I think some changes need to be made. Our laws should be in place to primarily protect people from harm and that should be the primary justification. Next, enforcement should be consistent, and not only look at the act superficially, but also strive to establish if there was actual harm and intent to cause harm.

For all we know, the demand for change constitutes an illegal act itself. I guess the only legal thing now is to vote.