As the family and friends of local actor, Aloysius Pang (Pang) bid a final goodbye to him, the silence maintained by our sitting President, Madam Halimah Yacob is deafening. While it is no secret that her role is but a ceremonial one, it remains that she is the official head of state. It is in the name of her office that our boys serve. Is it therefore appropriate for her to have not uttered a single word of support?

Since 19 Jan (date of Pang’s accident) till today, she has posted on her Facebook page, a post about a sport event at Istana, the formation of the new Council for Board Diversity and most recently on 26 Jan, hosting of the Sri Lanka President Maithripala Sirisena for lunch.

Perhaps she is of the opinion that she should remain mum until the Committee of Inquiry (COI) in Pang’s death is complete but surely offering words of support and condolence is separate from giving her view on the incident? Rightly or wrongly, this can create the impression that President Halimah Yacob is well and truly beholden only to the current Peoples’ Action Party (PAP) government.

In other words, if the government has not asked her to issue a statement, she would not? Perhaps in the media frenzy that has ensued at this unfortunate and potentially avoidable death, the government has had no time or bandwidth to issue any instructions to the office of the President? Given that the President is meant to represent the interests of the people and sit above party politics, her silence is certainly odd.

Madam Halimah’s route to the office of the president has not been without controversy. She was a walkover president after Tan Cheng Bock (Tan) was unable to contest due to a change in law which many have speculated were only enacted to prevent Tan from running and potentially winning. Madam Halimah was seen as the PAP’s choice – the pliant and establishment friendly choice. Her failure to issue a public statement of condolence and sympathy to the family of Pang certainly lends credence to the speculation that she does not take any independent decisions or initiatives.

Now, I do not want to politicise Pang’s death. His death is a tragedy in its own right and should be mourned in isolation as such. However, if lessons are not learnt and changes are not made, this would just be another number in the list of senseless deaths in service of the state. Many before me have already pointed out the importance of having a COI that is open to the public and the need for the family of deceased servicemen to have the right to sue the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) in open court when information is being withheld by the SAF. On top of these systemic changes, the silence of the President in this tragedy has made me question who she owes her allegiance to. Is it to us the People or the government? If it is the latter, why then is she necessary and why are we paying her salary through the public purse?

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