The celebratory event, which is to be held in June at the Civic Plaza in Ngee Ann City in Orchard Road, has drawn protests from some Singaporeans.
The Prime Minister himself has now joined in to condemn the alleged “harassment” of the organisers by those who have taken offence at the event.
According to one news report:
The event organisers said they have been harassed with anonymous phone calls demanding the cancellation of the June 8 carnival at Ngee Ann City’s Civic Plaza. “The callers say we have no right to hold the event in Orchard Road,” said organiser Rychie Andres of the Pilipino Independence Day Council Singapore (PIDCS).
“We do not dare to pick up phone calls now if we don’t recognise the number.”
Many calls have been filled with expletives and are often made late at night, said the non-profit group, which is made up of about 20 Filipino volunteers.
The organisers do not plan to report the calls to the police because they do not want to escalate matters, they said.
The protesters are against the use of the Singapore skyline in the promotional posters for the event, such as the one above from 2011 which they find offensive. The sun’s rays resemble that of the Japanese “rising sun” flags and posters during the Japanese Occupation, and the Filipinos soldiers raising the Filipino flag against the backdrop of a Singapore skyline is suggestive of an invasion or occupation of the island.
The protesters are also against the event being held in a very public place, in the heart of Singapore’s premier shopping belt.
The celebration will be held on a Sunday, 8 June, and the organisers hope it will attract “more than 10,000 people.”
It would thus seem that it will be a major celebration.
The protests from some members of the public, however, and the alleged harassment directed at the organisers have thrown up the question of law and order, and its potential to disrupt the public peace.
In 2007, the Workers’ Party (WP) application for a permit to hold a cycling event in East Coast Park to celebrate its 50th anniversary was denied by the authorities.
In his explanation to Parliament, the then Senior Minister of State for Home Affairs, Ho Peng Kee, said:
“It is an open area where there is potential for breach of peace, public disorder, and unruly behaviour.”
And he added:
“You may be well behaving, but there may be other people whom you come across when you cycle who may stop you, may want to debate with you and that may attract a crowd, therefore will result in problems the police want to avoid.”
A year later, the People’s Action Party Community Foundation (PCF) organised a “family day carnival” at West Coast Park where PM Lee was the guest of honour.
Questions were then raised in Parliament by then Non-constituency Member of Parliament (NCMP), Sylvia Lim, and Nominated MP (NMP) Siew Kum Hong about the apparent disparity in treatment of the WP cycling event and the PCF one.
They asked if the government’s position on such outdoor political events by political parties or their organisations has changed.
In his response, Associate Professor Ho said it has not. He also explained that the PCF event was a “family day” event, compared to the WP one which was political.
When probed further, Assoc Prof Ho said:
“It’s quite different for a political party under its own banner to organise an event where it espouses a political cause, talking about issues that are close to the hearts. Some Singaporeans will agree, disagree.
“As we have seen in other countries, when you do this, because politics can create emotive feelings, passion…you may not intend it, but then there may be bystanders who may stir up the situation.”
Now, while the PIDCS event is not organised by any Filipino political party – if it were, the event would not even be approved – it nonetheless is a political one, as some have argued.
Celebrating one’s National Day of Independence is an emotional event, as Singaporeans themselves can attest, with the singing of the national anthem, the recitation of the national pledge, and the general feeling of patriotism and nationalism.
Indeed, there are few events which could be as emotionally charged as remembering and celebrating the birth of one’s homeland, which invariably entail the sacrifices of fellow citizens.
This is not to say that the Filipinos, or anyone else for that matter, should not be allowed to celebrate their nationhood in Singapore. They should, as indeed our foreign friends do. (See here.)
But for an event in a public place like Orchard Road, which its organisers hope to attract 10,000 people on a busy Sunday, and now with the very public protest against it, one would naturally ask if the reasons given by Assoc Prof Ho for disallowing the WP to hold its cycling event would also apply here.
In the same way as Assoc Prof Ho said the WP event might cause a “breach of peace, public disorder, and unruly behaviour”, and that “politics can create emotive feelings, passion” and that “there may be bystanders who may stir up the situation”, would the PIDCS event in June also not have the potential to cause all these as well, given what has transpired so far?
So, the question is: do the same reasons given for disallowing the WP a permit for its event also apply here in this PIDCS case?
Last year, we saw a riot take place in Little India, with a large crowd of people involved. Alcohol was fingered as one of the causes, and subsequently special legislative measures were introduced to prevent another occurrence of such an incident.
Would the PIDCS event in June also have the potential for law and order problems, given that emotions are running high over it, and undoubtedly will on the day itself too?
*Incidentally, filmmaker Martyn See has applied to the police to hold a “People Against Poverty” (PAP) rally at the Civic Plaza at Ngee Ann City on 8 June. (See here.)