Tag Archives: singapore army

On National Service – Part 2

Since my previous posts on National Service generated so much attention, I feel obliged to blog about the recent slew of news from the Ministry of Defence (MINDEF).

To recap on the conversations, read my previous posts:

On Alex Liang, a Singaporean who gave up his Singapore citizenship

On National Service

Blogger slammed for calling NS a “slavery system”?

Dr Lim Wee Kiak: Serving two years NS privilege belongs to Singaporeans

On Joseph Schooling’s NS Deferment

The government has granted Singapore top swimmer, Joseph Schooling’s request to defer his National Service obligation, enabling the 18-year-old to focus on training until after the 2016 Olympics. He is due for enlistment in 2014 but has been granted deferment until 31 August 2016.

I think this is the first time such a deferment has been granted and I applaud MINDEF for making this decision. I am very happy for Schooling and I believe it is a step in the right direction for greater flexibility in deferment.

On IPPT changes in 2014

Mixed feelings on this one. We asked for a review of the IPPT system and we got it. The 2.4km run has been upgraded to 3.2km. Be careful what you wish for… to be fair, details remain sketchy on the exact amendments. Running a longer distance, but with a more reasonable timing for non full-time soldiers may not be a bad thing and may be a fairer assessment of health level. Not everyone is a Spartan, but I do agree a minimum level of fitness is good for everyone.

I have no qualms on setting high standards for IPPT for full-time NSFs and regulars who signed on for a career in the army on their own accord, but I think the expectations for NSmen should be fairer, taking into account that we are just part-time conscripts, not career soldiers.

On Volunteer Corps for Women and Foreigners

You want to volunteer for this and reservist obligations till over 40 years old?
You want to volunteer for this and reservist obligations till over 40 years old?

Seriously?

My utmost respect goes to those who step forward and volunteer. I am highly skeptical that the number will be even more than a 3 digits figure though.

Overall, I do get the impression that MINDEF seems to be making some efforts to improve itself and the whole NS system.

The one thing I really wish MINDEF can look into is to shorten the ten ‘work year’ reservist system. Correct me if I am wrong, but I believe Singapore has the longest reservist and IPPT system in the world for conscripts. Is this really necessary?

What can we do in the meantime?

Just suck thumb and hope for the best and that MINDEF really gets it this time.

I am not going to complain anymore in case another surprise like the 3.2km upgrade for IPPT pops up again.

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Dr Lim Wee Kiak: Serving two years NS privilege belongs to Singaporeans

Who voted this guy into parliament?

I love this quote from Dr Lim Wee Kiak, Member of Parliament for Nee Soon GRC, on the results of the Institute of Policy Studies (IPS) survey on National Service (NS):

“What you realise from this survey is that majority are not asking them (PRs) to serve exactly the same two years system. In fact, serving the two years is a privilege. I am quite glad that many Singaporeans realised that and that should be a privilege that belongs to Singaporeans.”

Serving two years NS is a privilege?

I have always seen it as a necessary sacrifice that falls on the shoulder of Singapore-born males. Thanks for enlightening me that it should be seen as a privilege.

Here is a definition of the word privilege from Dictionary.com: “a special right, immunity, or exemption granted to persons in authority or office to free them from certain obligations or liabilities”.

The key words here are “free from certain obligations or liabilities”.

By this definition, it seems to me that to give PRs the option to volunteer and choose whether they want to serve NS fits better as a “privilege”  because they have a choice to be free from NS obligations and liabilities.

For those of us who have no choice as conscripts, wouldn’t enslavement and slaves be better words?

By the way, Dr Lim Wee Kiak is the same brilliant doctor who said this on a revision of ministerial pay:

“If the annual salary of the Minister of Information, Communications and the Arts is only $500,000, it may pose some problems when he discusses policies with media CEOs who earn millions of dollars because they need not listen to the minister’s ideas and proposals, hence a reasonable payout will help to maintain a bit of dignity.”

Strange.

I consider serving as a MP or a Minister a privilege. In fact, a very huge privilege.

You can choose not to run for elections or serve as a MP or a Minister. That is a privilege. I cannot choose not to serve NS/ICT/RT/IPPT/IPT. 

If NS is considered a privilege, using the same logic from our good doctor, it is sad that many NSFs will feel that they cannot defend the country when faced with professional, career soldiers from other countries like the United States as they are drawing a measly allowance compared to these mercenaries. We need more pay for dignity. Would the good doctor agree on this?

I wanted to stop blogging about the NS issue as I know it will get nowhere except me getting more unnecessary and unfair attention.

Thanks to Dr Lim Wee Kiak, I am drawn to write another post by the sheer intelligence of his comment.

This is the same doctor who insulted his senior in parliament, Mr Low Thia Khiang  with a totally uncalled for remark on his hearing aid

“I will quote (from your speech then) one more time. And maybe your hearing aid has to be (turned) up a little bit.”

Wow.

Back to the NS issue – I have to concur with Alex that a NS review will not take place. The system is not going to change if you look at the way the whole issue is being framed and discussed, following the results of the IPS survey.

People like me calling for a review of the NS system will always be brushed aside as a so-called “vocal minority”.

Why can’t I fight this?

It is because those serving or who have served NS are in the minority in the first place!

With 16 new immigrants and only 5 new births a day, the NS minority will just keep shrinking in the years ahead
With 16 new immigrants and only 5 new births a day, the NS minority will just keep shrinking in the years ahead

Subtract the women, subtract the foreigners and you find that you have way less than half of the total Singapore population who have served or are currently serving NS.

Among these are those who truly love NS (I am happy for them and am sure they will continue to give their service even if NS is abolished one day), army regulars and such. Subtract these people, how many are there left?

I am very sure majority of us who have served or are currently serving feel a review needs to be in place to make the system more relevant to today’s globalized economy and work fairer for us in the workplace and in the civilian world.

However, if you conduct a survey across the entire population, this result will never show.

A fellow blogger, Reddotwinston, did a good dissertation on the flaws of the IPS survey. Here is one highlight I pulled out:

“Defense is a public good. Wait… national defense is a PURE public good. By that, it means that the consumption of the Good (in this case, defense) is non excludable and non rivalrous. By non excludable, it means once defense is provided, even people who don’t pay/contribute, cannot be excluded from the consumption of it. By non rivalrous, it means that your consumption of the good is not going to prevent/reduce my consumption of the good. The problem with goods that are public good especially those that are non excludable is the free-rider problem. Basically, people who don’t contribute/pay are still able to enjoy the benefits of it.

Now if you remember the story I had right from the start, all the gatherers in the village are all for sending 10 young strong hunters to the monster because they get to enjoy the benefit of clean air without having to pay the cost of living with the monster. By asking servicemen and public whether “NS is necessary for the defense of Singapore” and having 50% of your respondents being women, you kind of bias the response towards an agreement.”

Having a NS system build up a defense force which keeps Singapore safe. There is no argument to this. If you ask those who do not have to serve NS if a NS review is necessary, there is no reason for them to say no as they get to enjoy this benefit without having to put in anything. Ask them if they support the current NS system if they have to serve two years full-time and at least ten years part-time NS upon saying yes. Let’s see how the results will change.

Anyway, I accepted defeat.

I will just suck my thumb and shut up because I will always be deemed as an insignificant “vocal minority” – even though NSmen and NSF are an actual minority in this country and even though my opinion may represent the majority among this minority.

Blogger slammed for calling NS a “slavery system”?

Nice headline by The New Paper (TNP) today on my two NS blog posts (On National Service and On Alex Liang):

Blogger slammed?

“While some neitizens agreed with him, most criticised him”?

I did an empirical coding of all the 415 comments (as of 8pm SGT, 9 Oct 2013) left on my two NS blog posts into four broad categories:

  1. Slammed NS
  2. Slammed Blogger
  3. Ambivalent
  4. Irrelevant

Here are the results:

Comment Type % of total comments % of total “slammed” comments
Slammed NS 249 60 77
Slammed Blogger 74 18 23
Ambivalent 27 7
Irrelevant 65 15
TOTAL 415

Should the headline be blogger slammed or NS slammed?

I will leave it to discerning readers to answer the question yourself.

If you think that I cheated or had been biased with the coding, please feel free to have a dig at the data and categorise them yourself. Feel free to share your results. Here is a link to the coding I did for everyone’s scrutiny. 

Btw, TNP did not try to contact me for this article. They just published it by picking all the most sensational quotes from my blog articles.

On National Service

I did not expect my rant last week on our National Service (NS) system to trigger such a strong reaction. 

By NS, I am referring to the entire package of two years compulsory full time service, annual ICT and IPPT/RT/IPT for ten work years and the constant threat of military law. I am not referring to just the two years compulsory service alone.

The post has garnered over 100,000 page views over one weekend, with over 6,000 facebook shares and still spreading like wildfire. 

For regular readers of my blog, you will know that I have always been unhappy with our unfair NS system. I am unabashed about this and am used to Rambo-types calling me all sorts of names because of this.

I read through all the comments, it seems to be a 70-30 split with majority support for a review of the NS system.

NS is a very big discussion topic.

Some of the comments seem to be going off-tangent while others are delving too deep into specific experiences for any meaningful discussion.

I would like to make some clarifications in response to where I stand on the whole NS debate:

1. I do no advocate compulsory two years NS for women or foreigners. Yes, it will make everyone equally miserable, but it will not make me any better off than I was before.

I just want our government to review the whole system thoroughly and improve on it to make Singapore men less worse off.

An eye for an eye will only make the whole world go blind – Ghandi.

————

2. I do not have the perfect answer to how the system can be improved. It is the job of the full time staff in MINDEF and SAF to look into it. This does not mean I am not qualified to complain. If you are served a piece of rotten chicken at KFC, do you need to be able to show the kitchen staff how to cook the chicken before you can say anything?

Please don’t give me crap about “constructive criticism”. It is my most hated two words which are ironically, oxymoron. They are convenient replies to cull off any meaning debates by forcing people to come up with solutions before they can even raise any problem.

————

3. Yes, the issue of foreigners influx is closely linked to the unfairness of the NS system. However, I am not against foreigners.

I  do not blame foreigners for coming in and compete with us for jobs. In fact, I applaud and respect them for having the courage to seize the opportunity when they see it.

Everyone is in search of a better life and if I were in their shoes, I would have done the same. Our government policies allow it to be this way.

————

4. While my main grouse is with the unfairness of the system, I won’t deny I am also partially looking out for my own self interest and comfort when ranting off against the current NS system. What is wrong with that? Nation before self? Come on… let’s get real.

If you found a loaf of bread during a famine and you know your wife and son as well as the soldiers defending your land are starving to death, would you give the bread to the soldiers because you believe in nation before self? Let yourself, your wife and son starve to death because the nation is more important? Seriously?

I can be altruistic and giving up to a certain level. At some stage, you have to fend for yourself, your family and your loved ones. Unless you are an extraordinary martyr of sort like Mother Teresa or Nelson Mandela, which I am not.

Even our Ministers justified their high salaries with the same self-serving logic. Why can’t I do the same as an ordinary Singaporean?

————

5. I won’t say I have gained nothing during my two and a half years as a full-time serviceman or during my annual ICTs. I made many lifelong friends to keep and the shared camaraderie was priceless.

However, these experiences have nothing to do with criticism of the NS system as a whole.  I do not understand why some pro-NS types keep harping on these as rationale to keep the NS system the way it is.

————

6. I am very against the restriction of freedom to live life the way I want it, even after I have completed two and a half-year of full-time service. It is not so much about the specifics of having to cut my hair short or attending RT/IPTs or applying for exit permits. It is not having the free option to do otherwise that pisses me off.

Some people are more free-spirited than others. I do not like regimentation. I can tolerate it in the short term (two years), but having it imposed on me for more than half of my entire lifespan is really hard to bear.

NS (reservist) is a part-time job with full-time commitment, subjected to a unique set of military laws where you can get jailed for minor stuff like forgetting to take your IPPT. Fair?

Isn’t this akin to modern slavery?

————

7. For those who keep asking me to AWOL, migrate or get out of Singapore if I am unhappy with the system, I am very sorry your worldview is so narrow you cannot even accept difference in opinions.

I never said I am not proud of my country or what we have achieved. However, I believe we can do better.

————

8. Seriously, it is time to review the whole NS and reservist system. 

On Alex Liang, a Singaporean who gave up his Singapore citizenship

BBC News ran a story on 2 Oct featuring twenty of their international readers explaining why they had renounced their citizenship from their respective birth nations.

Buried in the list was an Alex Liang, 37 who is now a proud British citizen:

“I was born and bred in Singapore but moved to the UK when I was 21 and eventually naturalised as a British citizen after seven years here – I am 37 today. I left Singapore because I had no faith in the government there. Singaporean males were discriminated against by the government because of the compulsory national service and many years of reservist obligations afterwards. That is compounded by the fact that the Singapore government is actively wooing skilled migrants to Singapore. Their “foreign talent” programme gives these migrants all kinds of advantages that locals are not entitled to. I gave two years and four months of my life to serve in the army and my reward is to be treated like a second-class citizen. I wasn’t prepared to fight the system, so I simply left and settled in the UK instead.”

Alex Liang, London

You know what?

Alex struck a chord in me with his comments on NS.

I am 33 now and I am very sick and tired of the stupid discriminatory NS system and ten additional “work year” (named such so that they can not count a year when you are not called back for in-camp training) reservist with additional IPPT/RT/IPT burdens.

Modern day slavery in Singapore
Modern day slavery in Singapore

I gave two and a half years of my life to full-time national service. I completed this in 2001. It has been 12 years since. Way passed ten years from my ORD date. I find it ridiculous that I still have to serve at least 4 more “work years” – likely near to my 40s before I can get discharged from this slavery system.

Forty years old… think about it. That is more than half of an average lifespan. An awfully long time to keep sacrificing for the nation.

In the mean time, I am subjected to silly school boy hair check at least once a year when I get called back for in-camp training. Not that I like keeping long hair, but I would at least like to have the option to make that decision myself instead of having MINDEF and SAF dictate that for me into my middle age. I am not a full-time soldier. I did not sign up for a career in the army. I was conscripted.

Not everybody like being soldiers or take well to regimentation. Two and a half years in the army was more than enough for me.

Not everybody is born fit and with a physique built to pass IPPT up to their 40s. There are some people who just cannot pass. In any case, my health and my fitness are my own choices in life which I prefer to take my own responsibility for. I hate having MINDEF and SAF dictate these for me.

I hate being sent warning letters each time I forget to notify MINDEF when I travel. I am not a criminal. My only crime was being born a Singaporean male.

I hate being sent a “birthday wish” SMS from MINDEF to remind me to take my IPPT or risk getting charged. Thank you. You are always the first to wish me happy birthday without fail each year and spoil my mood for the day.

I hate having to spend between 18 to 20 weekends a year doing RT/IPT when I could have better spent the time bonding with my son.

I hate constantly being reminded that MINDEF and SAF can charge me and send me to jail for stuff like failing to take my IPPT or failing to notify them when I travel. Like I mentioned earlier, I did not sign up for this. Being a soldier is only a part-time obligation, not a full-time job.

Google defines a slave as “a person who is the legal property of another and is forced to obey them.”

Does this definition reminds you of NS and reservist?

I am not as talented as Alex Liang to be able to get a ticket out of Singapore at such a young age.

I still love this country and my family, friends and work here more than the cons of NS discrimination.

Nonetheless, if I ever choose to migrate out of Singapore. MINDEF and SAF are highly responsible.

Seriously, it is time to review the whole NS and reservist system. 

7 Oct 2013 Update: Thanks for reading, commenting and sharing this post. I wrote another blog post to clarify my stand on the whole NS debate.

Jack Neo’s Ah Boys to Men《新兵正传》Gala Premiere

Ah Boys to Men gala premiere
Ah Boys to Men gala premiere

Thanks to the folks from GV Singapore, I watched Singapore’s top movie director, Jack Neo‘s latest movie, Ah Boys to Men《新兵正传》two weeks ago at the gala premiere at GV VivoCity.

Long time readers of my blog will know that I am not a big fan of the SAF and NS. I think it put Singaporean males at a disadvantageous position when we enter the workforce two years later than our female counterpart, not to mention having to compete for jobs with younger foreigners. Worse still, I find the ten years of reservist cycle way too long and disruptive to our civilian lives – after giving SAF two and a half prime years of my youth, it is still not enough?

Nonetheless, I still suck it up and served, knowing all these are part of my obligation being born a Singapore male.

I am stating these upfront so readers will know my review of the movie will definitely be skewed.

When I first knew that Jack Neo was making this movie to coincide with SAF’s 40th anniversary, my first thought was that the movie must be 200% funded by MINDEF as a propaganda strategy.

I was wrong. MINDEF only facilitated the shoots and provided expert military consultation in the filming. They did not provide any funding at all. Nonetheless, there were still some pretty cheesy propaganda moments.

The movie turned out better than I expected though. Sans the propaganda messages and the plentiful blatant product endorsement from a bak kwa brand, an auditing firm, a telco and a F&B outlet. Then again, James Bond movies like the latest, Skyfall, falls into the same trap these days.

The opening of the film featured a long battle sequence of Singapore under attack by foreign enemies. This is definitely something that I have not seen before in previous Jack Neo’s movies (or any Singapore-made movies) and kudos to him for achieving such high production standards. Sadly, the transition from the battle scene (which turns out to be a video game) to a storyline revolving around boys going through their army training was a bit of an anticlimax.

Jack Neo has chosen to use a main cast of mostly new faces, plucked from Internet blogs and video stars mixed with a few veteran actors and actresses like Irene Ang, Liu Qian Yu and Wang Lei. I find the mix rather refreshing and the new faces are fun to watch.

The lead actor Joshua Tan played the role of a spoilt brat adjusting to army life very well. I also like Wang Wei Liang’s acting as Lobang. Probably due to his Getai training, his comic timing is impeccable, just like his uncle, Wang Lei.

(L to R): Wang Wei Liang, Noah Yap, Joshua Tan and Maxi Lim (picture via CyberPioneer)
(L to R): Wang Wei Liang, Noah Yap, Joshua Tan and Maxi Lim (picture via CyberPioneer)

The older cast in the movie were all superb, easily holding their on against the boys, though they have significantly less screen time.

The scenes showing the army of the past were really funny. Were those really true? Stand by bed in the parade square? I would like to think I have it tougher than the new recruits today, but from the movie, I think my level of suffering was somewhere in between.

There were some moments in the film where I can identify with what the boys went through during my two and a half years in “national slavery”. I am sure many other Singaporean men will agree. This is the perfect show for male bonding.

I do not like to give star ratings for movies as I find it subjective, depending on which audience group you are rating the movie for.  This movie is definitely a crowd-pleaser like all of Jack Neo’s other movies. Heartlanders will enjoy it; Singapore males who have serve in the army will enjoy it (even if you hate SAF like I do); the average family audience will enjoy it. Serious film critics and art house fanatics should stay away – you have be warned.

The movie has done very well at the box-office. It has broken local box-office records by earning more than $1.5 million over its opening weekend, in the process beating James Bond movie Skyfall, which was in its second week of release. The movie raked $1,509,422 from Thursday (Nov 8) to Sunday (Nov 11), giving it the biggest opening weekend ever for a local movie. With 37 prints in cinemas, it beat the previous record-holder, the 2008 comedy Ah Long Pte Ltd, also directed by Neo, which had made $1,484,000 with 50 prints in its opening weekend over Chinese New Year.

Ah Boys to Men《新兵正传》is now showing in Singapore cinemas. It is a two-part movie. This is just the first part. Go catch it if you are not a film critic or art house fanatic! 🙂

NS Graduation: “I was impressed until my son told me he had to pay $2.50 for my attendance”

S$2.50 for the nation please :)
S$2.50 for the nation please 🙂

Via Straits Times.com:

‘I was impressed until my son told me he had to pay $2.50 for my attendance, as did his peers for their families at $2.50 per head.’

MS NG BENG CHOO: ‘My son’s passing out ceremony at the Paya Lebar Airbase on Monday was well-organised with video presentations, which gave parents glimpses of their sons’ national service experience. I was impressed until my son told me he had to pay $2.50 for my attendance, as did his NS peers for their parents, at $2.50 per head. Parents sacrificed by offering two years of their sons’ lives to serve the nation and yet the Ministry of Defence is unable to allocate a tiny sum for the light refreshments. Is our support for our sons’ national service not worth more than $2.50?’

Wow. I wonder how MINDEF will reply to this.

As if two years of “National Slavery” with slave level wages is not bad enough. This reminds me of how I was “encouraged” to subscribe to Pioneer magazine, donate to various team-building activities, send my boots for expensive laminating service, among other atrocities. All these when I was earning a very rich salary of S$200+ a month as an army corporal!

The difference between now and then is that people are no longer afraid to speak out and there’s the Internet and social media to force the elusive MINDEF to respond.