Two dioceses, two peoples

Guest essay by Rumpole of the Bailey*

Singapore and Hong Kong are similar in many ways. Both are former British colonies and inherited many features of the Westminster form of governance. According to Wikipedia, Roman Catholicism is practised by 4.6% or about 210,000 people in the Little Red Dot. The Catholic Diocese of Hong Kong states on its website that the Fragrant Harbour has 363,000 resident and 138,000 non-resident (e.g. Filipino maids) followers.

However, looking at how Gregory Yong behaved during Operation Spectrum in 1987 and Nicholas Chia is now behaving in this year’s Letter-Gate, one cannot help but feel that the difference in “gutsiness” between Hongkongers and Singaporeans extends also to the priesthood.

While in Letter-Gate, the Archbishop has relinquished his role as a shepherd and retreated into his tortoise shell, his counterpart in Hong Kong, Cardinal John Tong has gone on the offensive.

The Hong Kong Diocese takes its social role seriously and backs this up with action.

On 21st September 2012, coincidentally a few days after the outbreak of Letter-Gate, the Catholic Diocese of Hong Kong took out newspaper advertisements pressing the government to overhaul its policies on housing, education and welfare. These were in the form of an open letter occupying two FULL pages and published in the South China Morning Post (SCMP) — partly imaged below –and Ming Pao Daily under the heading “Some Proposals for the New Government of HKSAR from the Catholic Church in Hong Kong”.

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This is the SECOND time that the Diocese has done this. In February 2012, it ran full page advertisements in support of universal suffrage. You need to be a subscriber to view the SCMP article and the open letter has yet to be uploaded to the Diocese’s website, but you may view the February advertisement here.

In the open letter, the Hong Kong government was chastised for its penchant for giving out “sweeteners” instead of making much needed reforms. The Diocese hinted that this shows the government’s insincerity. “Rather than simply being complacent about giving handouts and offering small favours, the new SAR government must relieve people’s distress by addressing problems with the intention of solving them.”

About one million people in Hong Kong live below the poverty line. The Diocese states clearly and unequivocally that in its opinion “a society that neglects the rich-poor disparity is not worthy of being called an advanced or civilised society”. The open letter goes on to state five principles which it considered necessary for social development, one of which is that:

“Justice means to “give each individual what is due to him by reason of his being and his acting.” It also demands that we show recognition and respect for the legitimate rights of individuals and peoples.”

(click to enlarge)

The director of the Catholic Social Communications Office told SCMP that a copy of the open letter had been delivered to the Office of the Chief Executive. And the Diocese might publish a THIRD letter soon!

The Catholic Church has a Social Doctrine

The open letter makes numerous references to the Compendium to the Social Doctrine of the Catholic Church. Prior to this, the author was not aware of the Compendium’s existence or that the Catholic Church has a social doctrine. So netizens, please do not accuse me of having been trained in a seminary!

The Compendium was published in 2004 by the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace and purports to give a concise and complete overview of the Church’s social teaching. Throughout the course of her history, the Church has never failed, in the words of Pope Leo XIII, “to speak the words that are hers” with regards to questions concerning life in society. The Compendium is available on the web here.

At paragraph 153, the Compendium has this to say of human rights:

The ultimate source of human rights is not found in the mere will of human beings, in the reality of the State, in public powers, but in man himself and in God his Creator. These rights are “universal, inviolable, and inalienable”. Universal because they are present in all human beings, without exception of time, place or subject. Inviolable insofar as “they are inherent in the human person and in human dignity” and because “it would be vain to proclaim rights, if at the same time everything were not done to ensure the duty of respecting them by all people, everywhere, and for all people”. Inalienable insofar as “no one can legitimately deprive another person, whoever they may be, of these rights, since this would do violence to their nature”.

The Church expresses its preference for democracy when at paragraph 395, it says:

The subject of political authority is the people considered in its entirety as those who have sovereignty. In various forms, this people transfers the exercise of sovereignty to those whom it freely elects as its representatives, but it preserves the prerogative to assert this sovereignty in evaluating the work of those charged with governing and also in replacing them when they do not fulfil their functions satisfactorily. Although this right is operative in every State and in every kind of political regime, a democratic form of government, due to its procedures for verification, allows and guarantees its fullest application. The mere consent of the people is not, however, sufficient for considering “just” the ways in which political authority is exercised.

For democracy to function properly, its participants must have equal access to information. The Compendium, at paragraph 414, has this to say about a Freedom of Information Act (i.e. the right of any ordinary citizen to get statistical and other information from government agencies) and control of mainstream media by a few:

Information is among the principal instruments of democratic participation. Participation without an understanding of the situation of the political community, the facts and the proposed solutions to problems is unthinkable. It is necessary to guarantee a real pluralism in this delicate area of social life, ensuring that there are many forms and instruments of information and communications. It is likewise necessary to facilitate conditions of equality in the possession and use of these instruments by means of appropriate laws. Among the obstacles that hinder the full exercise of the right to objectivity in information, special attention must be given to the phenomenon of the news media being controlled by just a few people or groups. This has dangerous effects for the entire democratic system when this phenomenon is accompanied by ever closer ties between governmental activity and the financial and information establishments.

It would not be wrong to say that the Church does not approve of the Singapore government’s tight grip on the mainstream media.

The ISA is inconsistent with basic human rights, so said Lee Kuan Yew

The Internal Security Act (ISA), which allows for detention without trial, is inconsistent with the fundamental human rights as articulated in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights signed by 167 countries. To remind one and all, former prime minister Lee Kuan Yew, while he was an opposition member in the Legislative Assembly in 1955, spoke out against the Preservation of Public Security Bill (later to be renamed as the ISA), saying:

“What he [then-Chief Minister David Marshall] is seeking to do in the name of democracy is to curtail a fundamental liberty and the most fundamental of them all – freedom from arrest and punishment without having violated a specific provision of the law and being convicted for it”.

He even goes on to say

“Of course the Chief Minister [Marshall] has not given his assurance to me personally that I would not suffer under these Regulations – but we all believe, at least we all should believe, that as long as his Government is in control, conscientiously, scrupulously, and honestly working these rules and regulations, no one will be penalised or made to suffer who does not deserve to be penalised or made to suffer. But he has not said what would happen if, in fact, these special powers were not used with the same scrupulous care and regard for human values as they are”.

These words are recorded in the Hansard (i.e. Parliamentary reports) for posterity and you can view the complete speech on Parliament’s website.

Well, we now know what could and DID happen if these special powers were “not used with the same scrupulous care and regard for human values as they are”.

What is the Catholic Church’s view of unjust laws? Well, at paragraph 398, the Compendium has this to say:

Authority must enact just laws, that is, laws that correspond to the dignity of the human person and to what is required by right reason. “Human law is law insofar as it corresponds to right reason and therefore is derived from the eternal law. When, however, a law is contrary to reason, it is called an unjust law; in such a case it ceases to be law and becomes instead an act of violence”. Authority that governs according to reason places citizens in a relationship not so much of subjection to another person as of obedience to the moral order and, therefore, to God himself who is its ultimate source. Whoever refuses to obey an authority that is acting in accordance with the moral order “resists what God has appointed” (Rom 13:2). Analogously, whenever public authority — which has its foundation in human nature and belongs to the order pre-ordained by God — fails to seek the common good, it abandons its proper purpose and so delegitimises itself.

The reader can replace “God” with “Allah” or “Buddha” or simply “the Creator”. Do you have in Singapore public authority which fails to seek the common good? Is such an authority legitimate? More to the point – is the ISA an unjust law?

The Church condemns detention without trial and the use of torture at paragraph 404 in the following terms:

The activity of offices charged with establishing criminal responsibility, which is always personal in character, must strive to be a meticulous search for truth and must be conducted in full respect for the dignity and rights of the human person; this means guaranteeing the rights of the guilty as well as those of the innocent. The juridical principle by which punishment cannot be inflicted if a crime has not first been proven must be borne in mind.

In carrying out investigations, the regulation against the use of torture, even in the case of serious crimes, must be strictly observed: “Christ’s disciple refuses every recourse to such methods, which nothing could justify and in which the dignity of man is as much debased in his torturer as in the torturer’s victim”. International juridical instruments concerning human rights correctly indicate a prohibition against torture as a principle which cannot be contravened under any circumstances.

Some may ask: What about the Inquisition? Well, the Inquisition happened centuries ago and the Church has learned the error of its ways. Has our government learned the error of its ways?

Being a Bishop in Singapore is not the same as being a Bishop in Hong Kong

I originally intended to end my article with a suggestion to His Grace, Archbishop Nicholas Chia, to take a leaf out of the books of Cardinal John Tong (right) and his predecessor Cardinal Joseph Zen and stand up to the Powers That Be in Singapore. However, upon reflection, I decided otherwise.

Could the government have threatened to detain the archbishop personally under the ISA? Not likely as this might lead to a diplomatic crisis as the Vatican is a sovereign state in itself with observer status in the United Nations. Could it have threatened to detain the members of Function 8 under the ISA? In this political environment? When every few days one ministry or another has to issue press releases to clarify this or that? Not likely. Close down all its places of worship? Unthinkable. Like cutting off the nose to spite the face.

It is not inconceivable, however, that the government may have threatened to withdraw its support for the Church’s charitable and social activities or at least to impose onerous “conditions”. The Church sponsors many schools. These receive subsidies from the public purse and curricula are subject to government scrutiny. The Church also cares for the aged, sick and destitute through its various charities. And last but not least, the State has the power to compulsorily acquire land and “compensate” the owner at less than current market value. Who suffers the most if indeed the State’s powers are abused in this manner? Not the Bishop personally, but the aged, sick, destitute. Your children who may not be able to find a place in a Catholic school.

Can the Hong Kong Government not threaten to pull these levers as well? Yes it can, but it will have tens if not hundreds of thousands of vociferous but otherwise peaceful protestors on the streets the very next day! And they will not go away until their demands are met! Cardinals John Tong and Joseph Zen dared to do what they did for they knew that Hong Kong people are no pushovers and more importantly will not retreat at the slightest sign of danger. Did Lim Chin Siong not tell a massive audience : “Saya masuk first gear, lu jangan gostan” [When I engage the first gear, you do not reverse]?

Singaporeans chose this Government

We should not blame the Bishop; we certainly should blame the government for clinging on to its totalitarian ways; but most importantly Singaporeans, Catholic or otherwise, should blame themselves. It is they who chose this government. They who do not dare to violate its unjust laws, such as the ones restricting their constitutional right to peaceful assembly. Voting once every five years is not enough.

Render unto Caesar that which belongs to Caesar only applies to taxation. This is made clear in paragraph 379 of the Compendium:

In his pronouncement on the paying of taxes to Caesar (cf. Mk 12:13-17; Mt 22:15-22; Lk 20:20-26), he affirms that we must give to God what is God’s, implicitly condemning every attempt at making temporal power divine or absolute: God alone can demand everything from man. At the same time, temporal power has the right to its due: Jesus does not consider it unjust to pay taxes to Caesar.

Resistance to unjust laws is specifically sanctioned by paragraph 400 of the Compendium:

Recognising that natural law is the basis for and places limits on positive law means admitting that it is legitimate to resist authority should it violate in a serious or repeated manner the essential principles of natural law. Saint Thomas Aquinas writes that “one is obliged to obey … insofar as it is required by the order of justice”. Natural law is therefore the basis of the right to resistance.

There can be many different concrete ways this right may be exercised; there are also many different ends that may be pursued. Resistance to authority is meant to attest to the validity of a different way of looking at things, whether the intent is to achieve partial change, for example, modifying certain laws, or to fight for a radical change in the situation.

Divide and rule is a strategy that has stood the test of time. So, please do not fall into the People’s Action Party’s trap and start pointing fingers at each other. The blame falls squarely on the government and the people who granted it wide powers without insisting on proper checks and balances – and for 50 long years at that!

It is claimed by others on the Internet that the archbishop was arm-twisted during a “routine” lunch session by a certain minister who had studied at St Joseph’s Institution, a Catholic sponsored school, and is now at the helm of a ministry that includes the Internal Security Department in its portfolio. The word “disrespect” has also been bandied around, mostly by the mainstream media. If those claims made by others are true, then may I be so bold as to ask which is the greater sin – ungratefulness or disrespect?

* Rumpole is the main character in a British TV series about an ageing London barrister who defends any and all clients (see for more info). The author, who is an National University of Singapore law graduate living and working abroad, chose this moniker to encourage an interest in legal issues because it does not just affect lawyers and their clients. The everyday layman needs to be informed of his rights and obligations and in the context of the “Little Red Dot” to avoid being talked down to or misled by their highly paid ministers, including those that don’t have any portfolio, or civil servants with bad attitude and poor knowledge of the laws which they are supposed to be enforcing.

48 Responses to “Two dioceses, two peoples”

  1. 1 yuen 2 October 2012 at 06:42

    being bishop in SG different from HK? imagine what it is like in China, where bishops need to be designated as “patriotic” by authorities before being officially appointed by Vatican

    not only are things different between dioceses, there are different views of how to face the political issues within one diocese, which explains the sending and retracting of the letter which YB made famous

    churches are supposed to be involved in community issues and social services; what makes the catholic church’s situation more tricky is it being an international network with certain cross-nation humanitarian ideas; in contrast, local organizations like City Harvest can be content with innocuous charity events like natural disasters in China (photo opportunity) and free transport for old people going to services (business expansion)

  2. 3 Nick Lim 2 October 2012 at 08:24

    Fantastic essay! Well researched and boldly written by your guest writer. Never fail to learn something new every time I read your blog. With writers like your guest writer and your goodself, slowly but surely, we can hope to see the “light at the end of the tunnel” in Singapore

  3. 4 Obama Osama tak sama 2 October 2012 at 09:14

    The most important thing for a political party is to win at least 93% seats in Parliament every election.

    Then as a legitimately elected govt, you have the supreme power to set the agenda on all areas, be it social, economic, legal or even the role of religion on these matters.

    And with that, who are the rest to comment what is right or wrong or using other places and people as examples of right and wrong?

    Don’t these commentators know what really matters and that no 2 places and people and issues are the same, even though they look similar?

    If not the same, how can the approach and action be the same, if you want good outcome or what really matters?

    • 5 Sinkie no more 2 October 2012 at 11:31

      “Then as a legitimately elected govt, you have the supreme power to set the agenda on all areas, be it social, economic, legal or even the role of religion on these matters.”

      Really? This shows a total lack of understanding of what a democracy is all about.

      First, the power of an elected government is not supreme. It is subject to the Constitution. The Constitution lays out many things that the government of the day cannot do.

      Second, in a democracy, the agenda is set by the people who elect the government to implement that agenda.

      Third, if a political party promises one agenda at GE and implicates a totally different agenda once elected, that is fraud, plain and simple.

      “One of the basic political tenets of democracy is that a Party is elected on its election platform. Of course, if one wishes to avoid the inconvenience of having to go back to the people after going back on an election pledge one could say, in a moment of flamboyance, “I would break a promise if it were in the interests of the country.” To commit that heresy would make a mockery of democracy.”

      Who said this? None other than Lee Kuan Yew. At the same debate in 1955 when he spoke AGAINST the enactment of the Preservation of Public Security Bill (later known as the ISA).

      “And with that, who are the rest to comment what is right or wrong or using other places and people as examples of right and wrong?”

      This is an even more ridiculous statement. Citizens have the right to comment precisely because there are citizens. The State exists for the citizens and not the other way round. If you do not wish others to criticise your policies or worse point out that you have deviated from the policies which you had promised the electorate in order to get elected, then get out of politics.

    • 6 petulantchild 2 October 2012 at 11:42

      This government wins majority of seats through gerrymandering. How can the Election Department falls under the purview of the Prime Minister’s office? What kind of government redraws electoral boundary to benefit its own party? You can’t say that it expected of the ruling party to do so. This is literally abuse of power. The HKers won’t stand for any of this, and it has nothing to do with people in different regions/locations having different issues. Yet Singaporeans accept being robbed of their political voices because they either have no guts, or blinded by the propaganda, or apathetic, or one of the minority beneficiaries from the system. Many people just don’t realize the ramifications of what they had bargained for.

      • 7 yawningbread 2 October 2012 at 16:08

        The electoral system in HK leaves much to be desired. The functional constituencies make a mockery of legislative elections. The absence of direct elections for Chief executive is another problem. While there are many calling for reform, how many others are apathetic about the situation in HK too?

      • 8 The 2 October 2012 at 16:37

        /// What kind of government redraws electoral boundary to benefit its own party? You can’t say that it expected of the ruling party to do so. This is literally abuse of power. ///

        Most governments that hold elections do that, starting with that paragon of democracy – the US. If you look at the electoral map of Massachusetts, you will see that it resembles a salamander. And the word Gerrymander was coined to disparage Governor Gerry for redrawing the electoral boundary. Likewise, there Jerrymander – in reference to California Governer Jerry Brown.

        Closer to home, in Malaysia the rural votes are worth more than 4 or 5 times the urban votes.

  4. 9 james 2 October 2012 at 09:59

    Blame the 60%. What to do? You should think of ways to get the 60% to read your blog the way they read newspaper or watch tv. Or maybe the problem is that they never read or can’t read.

    • 10 Peter 2 October 2012 at 20:38

      Why blame it on 60% when you know very well these 60% could have known what PAP has done, but choose to vote for PAP anyway ?

      Don’t believe ? Ask yourself how else can these 60% not appearing in PAP election rally if they are earnestly supporting PAP. Will you not land support for your party ? Instead the turnout in PAP rally is filled with pathetic miserable number of supporters compare to the alternate parties that the media has to devise to paint a different picture in term of words and photo angle to make PAP looks good.

      Human understanding will tell you that perhaps these majority of 60% are so shameful to show their face in support of the party but will vote the PAP anyway out of fear, job retention, benefits from system, glc job, etc …

      Don’t these reasons make better explanation than keep huming blindly that 60% vote for them out of ignorance ?

    • 11 Philip James Puspalm 3 October 2012 at 00:53

      I am part of the 60% and how dare you accuse us of being the problem. Is not democracy the rule of the majority. There are always views for and against. Why must the view of the 40% minority prevail over the majority ? Now is the time we need to be united, with all the problems besetting the world politically and economically. There is yet a viable opposition party that can take over the governing of our country Singapore. Until then my vote will always go to the present Government, for the sake of my family, friends and Country.
      Majullah Singapura !

      • 12 Rumpole of the Bailey 3 October 2012 at 15:54

        “I am part of the 60% and how dare you accuse us of being the problem. Is not democracy the rule of the majority.”

        No, democracy is not rule of the majority at any price. That is “tyranny of the majority”.

        “The one pervading evil of democracy is the tyranny of the majority, or rather of that party, not always the majority, that succeeds, by force or fraud, in carrying elections.” – Lord Acton , the History of Freedom in Antiquity (1877)

        Individual rights are not subject to a public vote. The political function of rights is precisely to protect minorities from oppression by majorities. The smallest minority on earth is the individual.

        That is why the British endowed to us a Constitutional democracy. The function of a Constitution is to limit the powers of the majority so as to prevent them from encroaching on basic human rights. Our Constitution’s role and function has been eroded by the PAP’s super-majority in Parliament which enables it to amend the Constitution at will and this power has been used frequently.

        An entitled electorate would not have allowed that to happen. It would have appreciated the concept of “checks and balances”, or to put it in a more layman manner, “do not put all your eggs in one basket”. An entitled electorate would not have thrown away the endowment we got from the British.

        It is even more galling that they sold their votes in return such “sweeteners” as lift upgrading! Aren’t lifts supposed to stop on every floor in the first place? One couldn’t possibly buy votes if there are no sellers in the first place. In Singapore, if you thrown a stone at a crowded place, there is a more than 50-50 chance it will hit a vote seller.

        “There is yet a viable opposition party that can take over the governing of our country Singapore.”

        There is no viable opposition party precisely because the PAP has abused its position as the dominant party to prevent the emergence of a viable alternative. The demonisation of Chee Soon Juan and the more recent aspersions cast by the mainstream media on Tan Jee Say and his supposed “financial problems” are only the tip of the iceberg.

      • 13 james 3 October 2012 at 19:49

        Ok. I correct myself. I blame the silent majority.

      • 14 calvin 3 October 2012 at 22:55

        your majullah Singapura got typo…

      • 15 Rumpole of the Bailey 4 October 2012 at 10:22

        Correction – meant to say “an enlightened electorate” instead of “an entitled electorate”.

        “He [Buddha] taught that we suffer because of desire, anger and stupidity, and he showed that we could end our suffering by letting go of desires and overcoming anger and stupidity.”

        Judging from the above statement, the Buddha would have wanted an enlightened electorate. Perhaps the way to do this is to get rid of our attachment to “stability” and “peace” at all cost. He might have rationalised that this attachment was due the electorate’s ignorance of the value of “checks and balances” and the dangers of “putting all your eggs in one basket”.

  5. 16 petulantchild 2 October 2012 at 10:53

    I had not realized the constraints the Archbishop might have, so I now understand why Alex had repeatedly said that the government should be the one answerable in this saga. I agree with the author that Singaporeans have allowed ourselves to be neutered, all for a pigeon hole in the sky. It’s a Faustian bargain. So now the people have to realize that it’s imperative we take back our political power and regain our voice.

  6. 17 Tan Tai Wei 2 October 2012 at 10:59

    Seems to me a crucial misunderstanding exists in the oft bandied about defence of such prohibiting of religion’s involvement in politics, etc., ie. the so-called “division of church and state” and maintaining “a secular society”. Now, this call is pertinent only in such contexts where a state adopts a particular religion, and is inclined to impose, say, the religion’s laws and morality on all. The call for secularism then is that government is for considering the interests of all, and not only adherents of that religion (whose interests and beliefs, in these days and age, should in any case be expected to be diverse even within the broad religious affiliation). And so, as far as possible, the state should legislate over and care only for areas of living common to all, and leave specific religious affairs to religions, as NGOs among others, to adjudicate. But all this does not mean that religions and other NGOs should have no say on affairs of the state. A secular state nonetheless has the reponsibility to care for all citizens, people with or without religion, either as individuals or members of organisations or chrches, NGO or not. And so all should be accorded the right to express their interests and concerns, over matters personal or societal, and only then can the state execute its responsibility to care for and adjudicate over them.

  7. 18 Sukasuka 2 October 2012 at 12:24

    This article elaborates on how the Singapore government is in power because citizens accept and choose this so.

  8. 19 petulantchild 2 October 2012 at 12:43

    Hi Alex,

    Can I have your kind permission as well as that of the author’s to repost this in my blog?

    Thank you!

  9. 24 K Das 2 October 2012 at 12:48

    I have a strong feeling Alex may be aware of the entire contents of the three letters written by the Archbishop and perhaps even have copies of them with him somewhere. But he has not said so explicitly or revealed them public, may be out of respect for the informer who communicated with him on these matters on trust or out of a sense of moral right in wanting not to betray the trust placed on him.

    In this context, he has acted responsibly and respectfully in respect of the affected parties.

    He is very clear headed and absolutely committed to human right causes. He inspires and motivates people to think and reflect on public interest issues with his bold, rational and well-argued writings.

    Thank you Alex, keep on educating me!

  10. 25 The 2 October 2012 at 14:09

    /// However, looking at how Gregory Yong behaved during Operation Spectrum in 1987 and Nicholas Chia is now behaving in this year’s Letter-Gate, one cannot help but feel that the difference in “gutsiness” between Hongkongers and Singaporeans extends also to the priesthood. ///

    Because there is no LKY and ISA in Hong Kong?

  11. 28 Genexgirl 3 October 2012 at 19:46

    While it may be unintentional on your part, please take note that Buddha is not the creator of the world nor the ‘ultimate source’. What Buddha did teach is a social, moral and spiritual philosophy aimed at eradicating human suffering. Buddha was a verifiable human being who lived in 5th century BC India, unlike Allah or God.

  12. 29 Andre Joseph Theng 3 October 2012 at 21:36

    I found this post especially informative and fair, and provides a balanced view accurately explaining some of the constraints out Bishop faces. Thanks for this.

  13. 30 Lee Mong Wah, John 4 October 2012 at 13:20

    Rumpole, your long discourse did not offer a conclusion. Permit me to draw one for you and about you. And do correct me if I am wrong; and let the reasonable bystander be the final arbiter:

    You said: “…one cannot help but feel that the difference in “GUTSINESS” between Hongkongers and Singaporeans extends also to the priesthood”.

    You said: “…the Archbishop has relinquished his role as a shepherd and retreated into his tortoise shell, his counterpart in Hong Kong, Cardinal John Tong has gone on the OFFENSIVE”.

    You said: “…Cardinals John Tong and Joseph Zen DARED to do what they did for they knew that Hong Kong people are no pushovers and more importantly will not retreat at the slightest sign of danger”.

    By inference, you have indicted Singaporeans and the Archbishop and the priesthood, as having “no guts” and if I may add no balls, no spines, no brains and their mouths and their rectums are interchangeable, unlike the HongKongers who DARED to protest by the hundreds of thousands.

    Conclusion #1: You pontificate about the cowardice of others. But you hide behind a psuedo name, which you call a moniker.

    You quoted extensively from the Catholic Church’s Compendium to underline your point that the Catholic Church has a Social Doctrine on human rights, democracy, injustice (which you extrapolate in your own words, to unjust laws, pointing to the ISA).

    The thrust of your point is that the Catholic Church in Singapore in general, and the Archbishop in particular, failed to stand by their convictions.

    You said: “I originally intended to end my article with a suggestion to His Grace, Archbishop Nicholas Chia, to take a leaf out of the books of Cardinal John Tong (right) and his predecessor Cardinal Joseph Zen and (DARE TO) stand up to the Powers”

    Conclusion #2: You are inferring, are you not, that the Archbishop and his merry men did not and do not have the guts to stand up to the powers that be. You are in fact advocating that they do, and in so doing offer themselves up as martyrs?

    And by logical extension, are you not also indicting Mr Alex Au as a coward for not pursuing his disagreement with AGC to the end, in his stand on the Woffles Wu case.

    And worse are you not also by inference, implicating persons like Tan Wah Piow, Francis Seow, Tan Liang Hong, ad nauseum, as spineless people who dared not stand up to the powers-that-be and ran away?

    Confucius has some good advice for such as you: “When you see the good in a man, you emulate. When you see the bad, you first examine yourself…”

    By the way, are you also gay? I suspect so. Why? Because the Archbishop and the Catholic Church in general are anti-gay. By your stand, you have unwittingly planted suspicions in readers’ minds that Mr Alex Au may have also have some personal agenda. Which is doing a great disservice to his cause.

    And also by the way, are you Singaporean? If so, when are you coming back to Singapore to lead an uprising. To walk your talk?

    In conclusion, to be of any use, netizens must be champion boxers, like Mohd Ali…”float like a butterfly…sting like a bee”…can give hard punches but also can take hard punches…

    G’day. Nice talking to you.

    • 31 Snoozer 4 October 2012 at 17:42

      Best reply of the entire thread.
      Thanks and kudos, John.

      • 32 The Reasonable Bystander 5 October 2012 at 13:39

        90% of those who read these articles or who follow any political news keenly tend to be supportive of the opposition cause. Going on a demonstration can help to raise awareness of issues which the silent majority did not think about or bother to read about. Having issues dicussed on the newspapers and in public forums are two other ways. But due to tight control of the media and laws making demonstrations illegal (these are allowed in Hong Kong), the only other way is through the internet.

        It is obvious that trolls are hired by the PAP to make comments to cast doubts and sow discords amongst Singaporeans and to distract readers from the real issues.

        What I have to say is to encourage bloggers such as Alex Au to share these articles more freely in hope to reach a wider audience. The end objective is to promote political awareness and in so doing, let the silent majority see through the deception by PAP and thereby reducing support for unfair and self-serving policies.

    • 33 Samuel 4 October 2012 at 17:56


      You have some valid points there. Unfortunately it has all been ruined by your baseless attacks on the writer. In doing so, you expose yourself as nothing more than another internet “troll.”

      This does not add to good online dialogue and discussion.

      Rather, why not focus your attack on the writer’s position and stance? I believe you have a problem with the position the writer took, not the person itself (but I may be wrong).


      • 34 Lee Mong Wah John 4 October 2012 at 19:38

        Samuel, As I have stated at the outset, I will leave it to reasonable bystanders like yourself to be the final arbiter. So I’ll leave it at that…we will agree to disagree.

      • 35 Snoozer (@Snoozer8) 5 October 2012 at 00:03

        Samuel, your ad hominem on John doesn’t add to good online dialogue and discussion either. John called Rumpole to walk the talk, a fair enough challenge given Rumpole’s attacks on the Archbishop’s “cowardice”. It’s easy for us to be backseat drivers and critics, but another thing altogether when put in the hot seat. Rumpole has asked tough questions of others, let him answer those thrown his way as well.

      • 36 Reasonable Reader 6 October 2012 at 19:16

        Some thoughts on Reasonable Bystander’s point about laws making demonstrations illegal:

        – Don’t necessarily ‘ve to be demos. For National Education controversy, HK uni students tied black ribbons round their wrists as sign of protest & solidarity. Imagine lecture rooms full of students with black ribbons on their wrists. MSM will probably ignore it, but Youtube, Twitter, Facebook, etc can be used to spread images. Another idea are T-shirts. More obvioius than ribbons.

        – A picture is worth a thousand words. Videos ‘re better. Here ‘re some Youtube links:

        – Working adults ‘ll hesitate to attend demos. High school students ‘ve less to lose. They’re the ones who’ve to suffer most if Govt keeps flooding market with cheap PMETs.

        – Lots of planning goes behind these things in HK & elsewhere. CSJ failed ‘cos he acted on impulse. Read somewhere that organisers of annual HK July rallies ‘ve funds to last them for few years. Pamphlets, food & drinks for the wary, all cost money.

    • 37 Rumpole of the Bailey 4 October 2012 at 22:20

      I have little doubt that you are a troll. Or you could be the John Lee Mong Wah whose profile is available on LinkedIn, in which case, I will only add that as a man who should be in his late 60s, you show a surprising level of immaturity.

      You start off by claiming that my essay did not offer any conclusions. This is quite a typical attitude that I encounter from those that went through the Singapore education system. They expect answers to be spoon fed to them. My essay is meant to be thought provoking. Ask any lawyer who has been taught at NUS by Walter Woon and Robert Beckman and they will tell you about the marvels of the Socratic method of teaching. It draws the conclusion from the student by teaching them how to ask the right questions.

      You have also used consciously (if you are a hired troll) or subconsciously some disingenuous tricks of argument.

      Typing this reply on a mobile device is getting very tedious and I will rebut you point for point tomorrow using a proper computer. Suffice to say, you will do well to read “Straight and Crooked Thinking” by Robert H Thouless. It was a recommended text for GP in my A Level days.

      Cheers and the full rebuttal will come soon enough …

      • 38 Rumpole of the Bailey 5 October 2012 at 15:11

        Mr. Lee, you have used disingenuous methods of argument in your reply.

        The copyright on “Straight & Crooked Thinking”, referred to in my earlier reply, has expired and it is available on the internet @,%20Robert%20H.%20-%20Straight%20and%20Crooked%20Thinking/Thouless,%20Robert%20H.%20-%20Straight%20and%20Crooked%20Thinking.pdf

        Pages 109 to 114 of the book contains a list of tricks of argument and I shall forthwith list some that you have used, consciously or otherwise, in your reply:

        Trick no. 1 – use of emotionally toned words, e.g. “cowardice” did not appear anywhere in my article, but you have used it often along with others like “balls”, “spine”, etc.

        Trick no. 4 – extension of an opponent’s proposition by misrepresentation of it, e.g. “the thrust of your point is that the Catholic Church in Singapore in general, and the Archbishop in particular, failed to stand by their convictions”. On the contrary, my point is that the Archbishop had been constrained by the fact that he may have been “arm-twisted” with the threat to abuse the state’s powers to the detriment of the weaker segments of society that the Church serves (e.g. approval of Catholic schools’ curricula in return for public funding; license to use State land to operate charities such as homes for the sick and aged who are destitute; compulsory acquisition of Church land which may presently be used for charitable and religious purposes in the name of building roads; etc). Weighing all pros and cons, the Archbishop did the right thing.

        Trick no. 35 – angering an opponent in order that he may argue badly. Need I say more? The whole tone of your reply is calculated to provoke anger.

        Trick no. 38 – arguing by attributing motive to one’s opponents. In the context of this article, I have no motives other than: 1) the ISA be abolished; 2) as a patriot, it is my hope that an enlightened electorate will emerge in Singapore; 3) I intend to play my part in the enlightenment process; and 4) at this stage of proceedings, the best way to do this is through writing thought provoking articles and not be sidetracked by trolls.

        Mao said that “a revolution is not a tea party” and may I add that a revolution of one has zero chance of success. I would recommend “Straight and Crooked Thinking” to all Singaporeans who love their country so that they can use it to counter any false arguments put forward by the Powers that Be to sidetrack discussions and further their agenda. “I think, therefore I am” – Descartes.

        Mao also started the Hundred Flowers Movement with the publicly declared intention of “letting a hundred flowers [different opinions] bloom” and when all dissenters are smoked out, he persecuted them with all the instruments of state at his disposal as “Rightists” and “Anti-Revolutionaries”.

        As for your use of “gutter politics” – implying that I’m not Singaporean and may even be gay – these tricks were used by the PAP in GE 2011 – to no avail. As a Singaporean, I fly home frequently to visit relatives and as Chen Show Mao said, “when I travel around the world, I carry my red passport, and when I move around in Singapore, I carry my pink IC”. My wife is young and pretty and her name is “She who must be Obeyed”.

        The way I deal with trolls is: 1) point out that it is my view that they are trolls; 2) identity some if not all of the tricks of arguments that they have used in their “replies”; and 3) stick to the original issues raised in my article.

        I have disposed of 1) and 2) and shall now revert to the original issues, which are:

        A) The ISA is an unjust law and should be abolished (a further article on this, minus the distraction of Letter-Gate, will follow).

        B) Divide and rule is a strategy which has stood the test of time. Your attempt at driving a rift between me and some well-loved Opposition figures is a clear example. The Opposition should stay united. As for Letter-Gate, the discerning public should point the finger squarely at the Government for having “arm-twisted” the Archbishop into withdrawing his letter. The Archbishop is first and foremost a Singapore citizen and as such has his right to freedom of speech.

        C) After weighing all the pros and cons, the Archbishop did the right thing and sacrificed his freedom of speech for the common good. For this, he has my respect. Please tell me which part of “Being a Bishop in Singapore is different from being a Bishop in HK” do you not fully comprehend? However, this does not detract from issue A – the ISA is unjust and should be abolished. Says who? Said LKY at the 2nd Reading of the Preservation of Public Security Bill (renamed as the ISA):

        “I would say that such a free government, speaking for the people, deciding its destiny absolutely and unreservedly, could drastically repeal those parts of the Emergency Regulations which militate against the fundamental rights of human beings anywhere in the world. This would not lead to Communism if such a step were accompanied by an equally bold and drastic economic and social reform. To shrug and doubt is to admit defeat. You may stifle political discontent, but it will come out at some subsequent date in a much more virulent form. If we take our chance now, I say Malaya can succeed as an independent and free democracy.

        The Emergency as a violent struggle is very probably going through a decline, and a new phase of bitter political struggle is opening up. If we do not relax these Emergency Regulation with a relaxing of this violence, then we are admitting to ourselves that we are irrevocably wedded to what I am sure the Chief Minister will agree is a totalitarian method of government.”

        As for the notion that Singaporeans are in general docile as compared to Hong Kongers, I would offer this Chinese proverb 良药苦口利于病 忠言逆耳利于行. Notice that I used the neutral word “docile” as opposed to the emotionally charged “coward”. This is to facilitate a civilised discourse. Is that not what you want?

        Rough translation of Chinese proverb: Good medicine is bitter to the taste but cures your ailment, loyal advice is grating to the ears but is good for you if acted upon. English equivalent: “Don’t shoot the messenger”.

      • 39 Rumpole of the Bailey 5 October 2012 at 16:49

        “3) I intend to play my part in the enlightenment process; and 4) at this stage of proceedings, the best way to do this is through writing thought provoking articles and not be sidetracked by trolls.”

        Hi everybody, may I take this opportunity to do some advertising and provide readers with links to my other articles available on the web:

        1) “The Woffles Wu Saga: A Case for the High Court to Exercise its Revisionary Powers?” @

        2) “The Saga Continues: Prosecutorial Discretion – Absolute or to be Exercised on Behalf of the Public?” @

        3) “The Case of the Sleeping Judge – Singaporean Judge caught Napping” @

        4) “On Sex Scandals and Fixing the Opposition” @

        For someone who is already living in a First World democracy where the Government of the day respects every citzen and permanent resident’s basic human rights, me thinks I have already contributed more than my fair share to enlightenment of the electorate back home. As a practising lawyer, my hourly charge out rates are not cheap and I could easily have taken the not unjustified view that what happens in Singapore is none of my concern and spend my free time lazing on the beach, enjoying the Good Life and pleasing “She who must be Obeyed”.

        I made and will continue to make my contributions because I empathise with the plight of my friends and relatives who are still residing in the Little Red Dot.

        The enlightenment process is not painless. Especially if one has been deceived for 50 years by an ultra-capitalist party masquerading as a socialist one. As for Mr. John Lee Mong Wah’s “shoot the messenger” reaction, assuming he is not a troll, may I introduce him to the concept of psychological defense mechanisms, one of which is “Denial” @

        Trained psychologists in the SDP like Chee Soon Juan and Ang Yong Guan are far more capable than me to shed more light on pyschological concepts like “Denial” and “Fear”. It amazes me that to this day some citizens still fear the serial number on their ballot slips!

      • 40 Lee Mong Wah, John 5 October 2012 at 21:38

        Thank you for proving my point…some netizens can only give hard punches, can’t take hard punches. I have stated at the outset that I will leave it to the reasonable reader to be the final arbiter…so I will leave it at that…we will agree to disagree…

        Except that… if by forcefully pressing home my point that TALK IS CHEAP, I am immature, a troll, dis-ingenious… then by your definition, you are correct.

      • 41 octopi 6 October 2012 at 13:36

        John, if you are in your 60s maybe you are new to this internet thing. If I may let me explain the rules here a little.

        If people want to say that you are “immature, a troll, dis-ingenious ” (by the way it’s disingenuous, nor dis-ingenious) then that is an adhominem attack.

        But if people want to say that you are “immature, a troll, dis-ingenious ” because you have raised a lot of issues that are not related to the argument at hand – whether Rumpole is a catholic hater because he is gay, whether he is an exile, etc etc. I think they are pretty justified in doing so.

        I write under a pseudonym, even though there are people who write under their own names. To get from the point where people in Singapore are routinely jailed and bankrupted, to the point where for three elections, we have dealt minor blows to the prestige of the ruling party, this is all down to both the efforts of a brave few who have protested against the regime in their own name, and also the armies of anonymous commentors like ourselves, who do not put a human face to our words, but nevertheless by our presence, assures everybody else who has something to dislike about the current regime, that they are not alone. Anonymous commentators exchange information and allow people to understand what happens behind the curtain.

        Now whatever is written by Alex Au or Rumpole on this matter has to be taken with the right spirit. I don’t think that they are outright calling the archbishop a coward for failing to follow through. I don’t think that they are unaware that the archbishop has his own constraints to work under. What they are doing, however, is to bring to light some incidents that have taken place, and thereby also bringing to light the inner workings of the government and the diocese. It could well spark a lot of anger against the government. It will give the citizens a lot of pertinent questions to ask the government. It could give a big hint that the archbishop is not really happy with the ISA. It could consolidate some progress towards the abolition of the ISA. All these things are not useless.

        Do you not know how this works? You got to keep on whacking them, even though you don’t really know if it has an effect. If the government wants to ban public protests, that is like wearing a helmet. When you keep on whacking a person with a helmet, there will be no external injury, but you know that he’s getting hurt. You know that he will get Parkinsons like Muhammad Ali. You got to keep on whacking them because you never know what might happen.

      • 42 Reasonable Reader 6 October 2012 at 18:43

        Thanks Alex for great essay from your guest writer. Fair & balanced. Asked some pertinent questions at the end. Love the parting shot – “may I ask which is the greater sin – ungratefulness or disrespect?” Masterly use of rhetoric.

        You know who ‘ll likely retort with “What do you think?” This the calibre of our ministers today. And at out of this world salaries too.

        John? A troll. Imputing motive without basis, deliberately provoking anger, etc. By mentioning “immature”,more or less admitted that he’s the John Lee Mong Wah on LinkedIn. Checked out his profile. Govt man – SIA, F&N (practically a GLC with the OCBC connection), own business. Guest writer shld be flattered they’ve sent such high level one to try and disrupt his message.

        Rumpole’s replies ‘re good too. Bit on the strong side, but can’t fault him, after the barrage from that bull in the china shop. Nice template for dealing with trolls – identity; deal calmly with some of their tricks; revert back to main issues.

        Read his other articles on TRE. As thought provoking as this one. A bit on the long side though. If he wants to reach a wider audience, ‘ll have to tone down on the lawyerly style. His first one on Woffles Wu saga was good – short and sweet. Then his second one went the academic route.

        Hope more writers like this emerge from their shell. Then S”pore may ‘ve hope.


  14. 43 Alan 5 October 2012 at 20:28

    Did LKY really said that ?

    When one tries to argue one thing but later does the exact opposite when in power, what kind of principles does this person have ?

    Hypocrite ?

    • 44 Rumpole of the Bailey 6 October 2012 at 10:52

      “Thank you for proving my point…some netizens can only give hard punches, can’t take hard punches.”

      Exuse me, this is a forum for civilised discussion. Not for punches. If you like to throw punches may I suggest you go to the boxing ring instead.

      There, your instructor will also tell you that if you throw punches at your sparring mate, be prepared to have him throw punches at you in return. This is the whole point of going into the boxing ring, except that punches under the belt are not allowed. Why don’t you WALK YOUR TALK? You can’t stand the heat in the kitchen of intelligent discussion?

      I have offered some views for the issues at hand. I don’t like the word “conclusion”. Nothing in life is cast in stone. After your “bull in China shop” reply, which does not address any of the issues under discussion, may I ask have you offered any substantive arguments to counter mine?

      Do you think the ISA should be maintained in its current form? Do you think it was right for the Archbishop to be “arm twisted” to withdraw his letter through the threat to abuse state powers? Do you not believe that the Archbishop, as a Singapore citizen, has his right to freedom of speech?

      You are free to disagree with my views and are expected to provide reasons, valid or otherwise, for the views that you hold. Netizens come to sites like this to engage in civilised and intelligent discourse on issues affecting our society, not to throw punches.

      I await your reply with abated breath …

    • 45 Rumpole of the Bailey 6 October 2012 at 11:19

      Hi Alan,

      LKY made his speech against the enactment of the Preservation of Public Security Bill on 21st September 1955. It is available in full @

  15. 46 colin 10 October 2012 at 00:13

    I have sort of lost some kind of respect to the parties involved

    Intelligent written articles? Yes I cannot deny this fact! With compendiums and authorities to support each claim…YES pass with flying colours.!!!!

    1) Calling a person hiding in a tortoise shell.

    2) Calling one gay (Derogatory way)

    3) Calling another troll

    4) Asking someone to walk the talk

    etc etc…

    Err….which part of the above is .under

    “a forum for civilised discussion”. I guess no one is perfect. Including me, the bishop, Alex, etc

    The first person who is perfect please feel free to throw stones at others.

    • 47 Reasonable Reader 11 October 2012 at 11:24

      “Tortoise shell” shld be looked at in context of whole article. I take it as showing initial empathy for view of many in the public that Bishop shld ‘ve stood up to govt, setting out various considerations, reaching a different conclusion – Bishop was constrained & not the one to blame, but the Govt is. Maybe Rumpole can come out to clarify what he/she meant.

      Examining whole thread, it was pretty OK ’til reply from “John Lee Mong Wah” came in. Baseless attacks and provocative language not even used in the article itself.

      Noted that as yet John hasn’t given a reply actually addressing the issues raised. Maybe he thinks it is OK for the state to “arm twist” the Bishop? That human rights are not important so long as economic performance is delivered? Someone else’s human rights is not my problem so long as I am leading an affluent existence? Nothing wrong with holding these views, but it wouldn’t be sensible to disrupt a discussion with an angry tirade.

      Reminds me of an incident – TT interrupted TJS during a Presidential debate @ 3.50 of this videolink

      TJS wasn’t politically experienced enough then to recognise that it was a trap and fell right into it! Was the interruption intentional? Can TJS be PPS to DPM Goh for yrs without ministers like TT knowing something of his temperament?

  16. 48 GoonDoo 19 October 2012 at 12:37

    To John Lee:
    I think i’m a ‘reasonable’ ,level headed netizen. Your hyperbolic exptrapolation that Rumpole could be an anti Catholic gay person because of his post, is far fetched, incredulous & designed to create mischief. What has Rumpole’s sexuality got to do with anything he wrote? Did he once mention the Church’s anti-gay stand, and his expressed opposition to this?

    Your reply conveniently glosses over Rumpole’s main points, and harps on tthe usual refrain that one needs to be physically present, in the flesh, fully named, and a citizen of Singapore before one can partcipate in a political discourse on Singapore. Does that refrain sound familiar?

    I’ll stick to my monicker, GoonDoo. I have that right to choose to do so, AND continue to comment on politics in Singapore.

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