I think he could not understand the truth of this incident or he would not want to understand the truth of this incident. If he could not understand the matter then his political consciousness or understanding is very low. If he does not want to understand the truth of the matter, then it is very dangerous”  – Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Education Mr Tang Guan Seng.

In the whole of Singapore, 2.6 million people, who will speak up for these 15? Somebody has to do the job. It is a necessary job. – Opposition Member of Parliament Mr Chiam See Tong.

In the Parliamentary sitting of 19 July 1987, a total of 17 People’s Action Party Members of Parliament (MP) stood up to speak against opposition MP Chiam See Tong’s motion calling for the release of the detained “Marxist Conspirators”.

The Online Citizen reproduces segments of the exchanges between Mr Chiam and PAP MPs.


The Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Education (Mr Tang Guan Seng) (In Mandarin): Mr Deputy Speaker, Sir, I support the amendment moved by the Member for Clementi. 

When the Member for Potong Pasir moved his motion, he said that these 15 detained people should be released on humanitarian grounds. I think what we should consider is either the personal freedom of these 15 people or the security of the whole nation, and whether we should consider either the grief of the members of the families of these 15 people or that of the interests of the whole population of Singapore. We have to choose between the two. As a responsible Government, we have to look after the interests of the absolute majority. We must have a balanced reasoning. In weighing our reasons, we should realize that until these 15 persons can show that they will cause no more harm to our society, we should not release them. This will then be a logical decision.

When this incident happened in May, many people were puzzled because in our history of nation building this is the first time that a link between the Marxists and the Church has been shown. People in general may not understand how these two groups could get together because, like fire and water, they cannot co-exist.

The second point is that most of these people detained are English-educated. This is contrary to our historical experience when in the past most of the Communists or leftists were Chinese-educated. People were puzzled how the English-educated people could now be involved in the communist and Marxist plot. But they forget that Marxism emanated from Europe where the Euro-communists were not Chinese-educated. So, this is history.

Another point that puzzles them is now that Singapore is already prosperous and the economy is well developed and people generally are enjoying a good standard of living, where are the fertile grounds and conditions to cause Marxists to sprout and have some ground to exist? For these reasons they have some doubts as to whether the Government has rightly arrested these people. However, after the Ministry of Home Affairs issued long statements disclosing detailed events and through the TV forums these 15 people made open confessions about their part in these activities and the background which led to the formation of their thinking and ideology, many people are now convinced that the Government has sufficient grounds and reasons to take such actions in the interest and safety of the majority of the people of Singapore and for the security of the country.

In the early stage, on a matter of such importance, the only Opposition Member should have spoken when many people were puzzled. He did not. So I think his political consciousness or sensitivity is much weaker than the general public. This is a pity. Yet, after the Government’s explanation, he still raises this motion before this House. This is even more difficult to understand. I think he could not understand the truth of this incident or he would not want to understand the truth of this incident. If he could not understand the matter then his political consciousness or understanding is very low. If he does not want to understand the truth of the matter, then it is very dangerous, because when he made his speech earlier he mentioned that in the US and other countries there were such and such incidents taking place yet heaven had not fallen down. He does not seem to know that our situation here is different.

Mr Chiam See Tong: I think the Parliamentary Secretary is unfair in making personal attacks on me. He says I have got very weak political consciousness. What has this got to do with our subject matter here? If you want to make personal attacks, get out of this House and make personal attacks on me, please.

An hon. Member: True or false.

Mr Chiam See Tong: All right, let him repeat outside whether it is true or false. Go outside and say that I have got a weak political consciousness. I am raising this motion because I do not understand. What proof have you got? You are just raving like a mad man in this House.

An hon. Member: Personal attack.

Mr Tang Guan Seng(In Mandarin): If the Member for Potong Pasir could wait until I have finished my speech before rising, it would have been better. But half-way through, he interrupted me and jumped up. He is a bit too excited. What I was trying to say is that as a popularly elected MP who professed to have political consciousness, he should be more sensitive politically than the general public. But when the ordinary people or some of them are puzzled about certain matters, as the MP of the Opposition, it should have been his duty to come out and express his views. Is it not his duty to do so? Therefore, it could either be that he is afraid to take up his responsibility, or his political sensitivity is too weak.

Mr Chiam See Tong: Mr Deputy Speaker, Sir, I wish you would call him to order and ask him to speak on the topic. He is talking about a lot of irrelevant things about me. What has it got to do with the amendment? Let him just please tell me.

Mr Ng Kah Ting (Punggol): Mr Deputy Speaker, Sir, I rise to oppose the motion moved by the Member for Potong Pasir. I must! The Government has done the right thing. The 15 detainees are people who calmly and single-mindedly pursued a course calculated to bring about unrest, chaos and even bloodshed to our country. I am glad, Sir, that the Government has decided to allow an Opposition Member’s motion to be seconded by one of its own Backbenchers when the motion could just as easily be killed. It is testimony to the political maturity of Singapore that we can have such an issue discussed openly in Parliament and also shown to all Singaporeans on television. However, although itis good to have these things aired, I could not understand the motive of the Member for Potong Pasir for raising the issue. Therefore, Sir, let me place before the House the possible motives of the Member and let us together examine whether they have any justification. 

I ask the Member for Potong Pasir, who is he championing? Whose side is he on? Is he proposing a motion merely out of consideration for the 15 detainees? For their human rights? I ask him, what about the rights of the rest of our population? The right to a peaceful, prosperous and harmonious society. The right to an open and free society. The right to a life free of subversion and manipulation by pro-Communist elements. Mr Deputy Speaker, Sir, I am asking the Member for Potong Pasir to look at the Government’s action as a whole and not lose sight of the forest for the trees. We must look at this from a higher plane. There is more to all this than just the detention ofthe 15 persons.

We are a very fragile society. The fine threads of peace and harmony that bind our multi-racial society can be easily broken; and once broken, they cannot be easily repaired. We cannot afford to be complacent. The Government must be ever vigilant against subversion and nip any conspiracy to alter the status quo by violent means in the bud. The Government need make no apology for detaining these people under the Internal Security Act. The Government has the mandate of the people. The Government has been elected by democratic process after (I stress the word “after”) the Opposition has made the ISA an issue in several elections and despite this, the PAP has been returned time and again.

Mr Chiam See Tong: The Member for Punggol has brought up many important points. He asked me whom am I championing? Whose side I am on? When I come before the House, I do not have any ulterior motives. I am not championing for the 15. Somebody must speak up for them. In the whole of Singapore, 2.6 million people, who will speak up for these 15? Somebody has to do the job. It is a necessary job. And I have been placed in a position where I have the opportunity to do it and I am doing it. That is all to it. And the Member for Punggol seems to want to put and imply a sinister motive to me. I have got no sinister motive in bringing this up. 

Mr Chandra Das: Political mileage.

Mr Chiam See Tong: Well, it does not really matter to me whether there is political mileage or not. As far as the PAP is concerned, everything is politics to them. I think the detention is politics, nothing to do with the security of Singapore. And I do not think the way so many speakers have gone on – they speak in such abstract terms of the world and of historical context and the like – you tend to forget that we are talking of 15 Singaporeans. The whole motion is that these 15 Singaporeans should be released. If you cannot give a valid reason why they should be detained a day further, then they should be released at all costs.


Read also:

Operation Spectrum – 22 years later

Remember May 21st

Passion for activism extinguished… but not for long

May 1987 – A conspiracy un-proved

TOC Exclusive: Teo Soh Lung – In her own words (Part One)

The Marxist Conspiracy – Not forgetting the evil things that have already been done (Ravi Philemon)

29 July 1987: Chiam’s finest hour

Was it a Red or White conspiracy?



“Marxist Conspiracy” revisited


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