A heated dispute between a National Parks officer and organiser of the Central Provident Funds (CPF) protest event took place last afternoon at Hong Lim Park over the shared use of the speakers' corner.
When Chia Seng Jiang, National Parks's director of the Parks division approached Han Hui Hui, the organiser of the CPF Protest just about 30 minutes before the start of her event. Ms Han was taken back by his request as he had requested that she shift her event to another part of Hong Lim Park beside the park's toilet. He explained to her that the location is the allocated space for her event by National Parks as there is already another event taking place at Hong Lim Par. However, Ms Han refused to budge and rebuked that there was no such demarcation for her event when she applied for the permit.
When Mr Chia failed to get Ms Han to cooperate, he gathered a group of people (who were introduced as plain clothes police officers) and approached her as seen in the video below.
Ms Han asked for identification from Mr Chia and the group of supposed plain clothes police officer, Mr Chia presented his name-card from National Parks while one representative of the plainclothes police officers presented a pass which had the person's face and insignia of the Singapore Police Force (SPF) on it.
The confrontation between National Parks and Police ended after the police made their point that there has been no police permit granted for the procession within Hong Lim Park and they would have to seek National Parks's permission. Mr Chia also said that Ms Han's speaker permit will be cancelled by the Commissioner of Parks and Recreation as required by the Speaker's corner regulation. However in the end, no instructions came from the commissioner for her permit to be revoked.
Ms Han explained to the media that she could not shift the protest site as the sound system has already been set up and they require the earth mound in Hong Lim Park to stand on as they did not cater for any stage this time round.
Ms Han claims that she only got to know of the YMCA's event on Thursday evening when she went to survey the venue, where she was confronted by four grassroots members from the community centre saying that they would ferry 5000 supporters to Hong Lim Park to disrupt the protest event. (Ms Han's facebook post)
An unforeseen crossing of events
The other event that was held at Hong Lim Park on the same day is Young Men's Christian Association (YMCA)'s Prom 2014. The event is a charity event which seeks to develop corporate social responsibility for companies by mobilising their staff to volunteer for a day in serving the less privileged through the programme.
YMCA clarified that it is a voluntary welfare organisation and is the organiser of YMCA Proms @ the Park. The activity has been organised annually since 2007 and they do not represent any grassroots organisation.
They added that YMCA had applied to National Parks for permission to use Hong Lim Park in December 2013 and were given permission in April 2014 to hold the event on 27th September 2014.
Although YMCA clarified in their statement that neither YMCA nor its representatives have had communication with Ms Han but an audio recording which is available online shows that Ms Han made contact with Mr Samuel Chan from YMCA. This implies that prior communication was made between the two organizers.
TOC spoke to some of the volunteers of the YMCA's event and they said that they were not informed that there was another event taking place in the park.
Disturbance caused by the clash of events
The organisers of the CPF Protest event started off by recounting what had just happened and claimed that the timing for the YMCA event was purposely changed so as to clash with the protest event.
This ruffled up negative sentiments of crowd towards the YMCA event. After each speech is made about CPF issues and the policy failure of the ruling party, the People's Action Party, the protest group went for a round of procession around the Hong Lim Park and around the tentage set up by YMCA.
Ms Han said to the media that the reason why they went all the way into area of YMCA, was because there were attempts to push them out of the venue.
Quite a number of volunteers from YMCA and supposedly grassroots leaders were seen to be uncomfortable with the slogans and unexpected crowd at their event.
Crowd also spilled into the tentage of YMCA to seek shelter from the sun.
Some of the special needs students were affected by the competition of volume between the audio speakers from both events, as they are seen trying to cover their ears from the loud noises. However most of the audience did not seem to be affected by the large crowd gathered.
Minister of State who held his composure
Minister of State for the Ministry of Trade and Industry, Teo Ser Luck was invited as the Guest of Honor to YMCA's event. The minister was immediately targeted by the protest group with their constant chants of "Return Our CPF" while he officially launched the event and greeted the members of public who turned up for the YMCA Prom 2014.
Despite the constant "bombardment" of slogans targeted at Mr Teo, the minister did not seem disturbed and kept his composure as he sat through the performances by the students. Subsequently Mr Teo got into direct contact with the protest group as they made their way near the stage area during one of their procession.
Mr Teo showed no signs of distress as he shook the hands of individuals in the protest group to greet them as they passed by him. It was instead the organisers of the YMCA event who were shaken by the close encounter, prompting ushers to surround Mr Teo as the protest group tries to shake Mr Teo's hand.
"Heckling" of special needs children
A youtube video on the protest event has been spreading about the protesters heckling the performance by the special needs children at the YMCA's event. Various members of the parliament and members of the public have condemned the insensitive actions by the protesters.
However, the video taken by TOC shows that the protest group was marching around in the park before stopping in front of the stage. At this moment in time as seen in the video, the children were nowhere to be seen. A few seconds later, the emcee announced the performance by the group of children and that is when the protest group carried on their procession back to their protest area.
Response by Singapore Police Force and the National Parks Board
"Speaker’s Corner in Hong Lim Park is designated by the Government as an area for public speaking and demonstrations. Application to use the park was first received from YMCA and approval to use the park was given to YMCA on Sep 9. Ms Han’s application was received on Sep 22 and approval was granted to Ms Han on the same day.
In anticipation of the crowd this afternoon, NParks demarcated and allocated space for both events. There are two lawns at Hong Lim Park, and each event was allocated a lawn. NParks and SPF approached Ms Han to request her cooperation to speak at the allocated space.
We regret to note that Ms Han did not heed our advice and continued to hold her event at the same lawn as YMCA. Ms Han’s group encroached into the YMCA event area, holding placards and shouting slogans, disrupted performances and frightened participants, including special needs children who were performing at the charity event. The Police will be conducting investigations into this incident."
Voices of the protest supporters
At the peak of the protest event, over 700 individuals of different age groups turned up for the protest event while YMCA had said that about 900 individuals from public volunteers, corporate volunteers from 14 organisations, and beneficiaries from 17 VWOs were invited for their event.
Mr Chan, an odd job worker who was at the protest event, said that he was formerly an engineer but was retrenched from his job. He could not find any engineering job which he attributes to the influx of foreigners in the engineering section and added that his wife is also currently unemployed.
A Chinese male in his fifties who was with his aged mother said that they were there to give moral support to the event. They both do not have CPF but still wanted to turn up for the event to give moral support to the event.
Another Chinese male in his fifties said that his CPF money of about 100 thousand is stuck inside his CPF account and two of his children will be going to university soon, he asked how is he going to get the money to pay for their school fees. He added, "what use is it if people do not see their wages increase despite the yearly increase in economy growth?"
Madam Tan said that she was there to hear what the speakers had to say. She added that Singaporeans are educated enough to try to find their own answers on issues such as CPF.
A Malay uncle said that he was there because of the newspaper reporting of the YMCA clarification about the event and wanted to hear what the speakers had to say. On the CPF issue, he said that he agrees with the government's stance of implementing minimum sum as people have to take personal responsibility on retirement however noted that the CPF system can be further improved for the low-income families.
Ms Han has announced that another protest will be carried out in Hong Lim Park on 25th October 2014.