Monday, 28 May 2012

Marxist detainee linked to the Tamil Eelam Liberation Organisation

A released photo of Chung Lai Mei, one of those arrested during the 1987 Marxist Conspiracy, showed her in a militant training camp in India in July 1986. The camp belonged to the Tamil Eelam Liberation Organisation (TELO), an armed insurgency group that was fighting was an independent Tamil Eelam in Sri Lanka before it was decimated by its more famous cousin LTTE or Tamil Tigers. TELO still functions as a political party today.

Chung, who dropped out of Singapore Polytechnic, was active in the Singapore Polytechnic Students' Union (SPSU) during 1981-1985. SPSU was charged by the government to be infiltrated by Marxists led by Vincent Cheng. Chung later became the deputy secretary-general of the Asian Students' Association (ASA), a Hong Kong-based alliance of militant students in the region.

In 1985, Chung supposedly led polytechnic students to demonstrate outside the Sri Lanka High Commission in Singapore demanding for the release of political prisoners in Sri Lanka, a country plagued by sectarian violence along ethnic lines.

Singapore Polytechnic Students' Union (SPSU)

SPSU was allegedly radicalised under the leadership of Vincent Cheng who build his contacts with the SPSU leadership through Geylang Catholic Welfare Centre (GCWC). As a full time helper in GCWC in the early 1980s, he got to know SPSU leaders such as Tan Tee Seng, Low Yit Leng, Ng Bee Leng and Mah Lee Lin (all detained under the 1987 Marxists arrests). Cheng exerted influence over SPSU through Ng and Mah and managed to control the executive committee and freshmen orientation committee.

SPSU activities included leadership training camps and closed-door gatherings where participants were told to fight for their rights and emulate Tan Wah Piow who was a martyr forced to flee Singapore. There was also a secret session where SPSU activists were urged to rally the students and working classes to exploit the on-going economic recession.

However, one can argue that these were merely more radical students and that these were gatherings in their capacity as private individuals and like-minded friends. On the other hand, others could also argue that these are akin to pre-nascent Islamic Jihadist terrorists and radicals gathering to indoctrinate fellow aficionados or recruiting new converts. A matter of perception that both sides, government and detainees, are more than willing to wring to their advantage. 

An interesting observation was that former SPSU activists started an underground newsletter called Commscord which took a leftist interpretation of army life. It used Marxist thought to allege that national service breeds 'consumerism' and that the rank system of the SAF promotes the emergence of a class system.

It is essential that the PAP government seriously consider releasing more information and materials to let Singaporeans judge for themselves the events and circumstances of 1987. Until now, what is presented of the Marxist arrests is a stark dichotomy between government allegations and detainees' pronouncements of innocent. While such a release may jeopardise operation techniques and betray ISD sources, government may consider a partial release or obfuscating details so as to protect those individuals.

Thursday, 10 May 2012

The Filipino Connection

Liberation theology was a radical movement that grew up in South America as a response to the poverty and the ill-treatment of ordinary people. The movement was caricatured in the phrase If Jesus Christ were on Earth today, he would be a Marxist revolutionary. The views of the eloquent former Foreign Minister, the late S Rajaratnam is also worth a read here and here. He argues a case of old Communism and new Marxism.

The movement comprised a wide spectrum from those who (mis)used liberation theology for their Marxist goals as well as those that who advocated it from a correct theological point of view where the church has a duty to help the poor but not to the point of politicisation.

Well-known radical Catholic priests were known to get involved in politics and trade unions; others even aligned themselves with violent revolutionary movements. The most salient example of this was in the Philippines where the Communist Party and their armed faction, the New People's Army is still waging a war against the Philippines government.

 In the case of Vincent Cheng (VC) in 1987, the government claimed that they have found similar evidence with regards to VC's trips to the Philippines in the 70s and 80s where he met Catholic priests that were involved in communist cause under the cloak of a clergyman.

 VC also met Al Santos, a member of the New People's Army and a staff of Philippines Educational Theatre Association (PETA). On the invitation of VC, Al Santos visited Singapore many times to provide guidance to the drama group Third Stage. In April 1982, VC arranged for Wong Souk Yee to attend a six-week drama workshop conducted by PETA in Manila.

Monday, 7 May 2012

Wah Piow Letters

According to the letters intercepted and released by the Internal Security Department, Tan Wah Piow (TWP), in his letters to one of the detainees, Chia Boon Tai, discussed about ways to "solicit the goodwill and support of the church." The letters were not sent directly to Chia in Singapore but to his brother in Johor Baru.

A Speakers' Corner event on the 25th Anniversary of the Marxist Conspiracy

The below is an event organised by the former detainees of the Marxist Conspiracy. This is a positive move towards educating our young about our own history. A pity that the speakers won't be the detainees themselves but more opposition and opposition-linked personalities. This would have its dangers of running into a discourse drawn along political lines rather than one that seeks to inform the public of the historical significance and debate surrounding the use of a law that allows detention without trial, whether it is the form of the Internal Security Act (ISA) or otherwise.

Note: This event has been postponed to 2nd June. Please see here


Come join us at an open air exhibition from 4pm to 7pm on Saturday 19 May 2012 at Speakers’ Corner, Hong Lim Park to remember the 25th anniversary of the 1987 “Marxist conspiracy”.

Ruminate with social activists Alfian Saat, Braema Mathi, Jeannette Chong Aruldoss, Jolovan Wham, Martyn See, Siew Kum Hong, Vincent Wijeysingha and William Yap as they share personal thoughts on the 1987 “Marxist Conspiracy” and its effect on civil society.

Participate in guided tours through a unique open-air exhibition detailing the lives of the 1987 survivors before and after their ISA detentions.

Walk through mockups of Whitley Road Detention Centre and go back in time with original artifacts and memorabilia from those ISA arrests a quarter century ago.

“Lim-kopi” with survivors of the 1987 “Marxist Conspiracy”, ask questions and get answers directly from activists who had been silenced 25 years ago.

Buy a host of newly published books by social activists who has never-before-told public stories of how they slipped the ISD dragnet, left the country, and are now in exile.


3pm to 4pm: Arrival and informal chit-chats.

4pm to 5pm: Sharing and reflections by speakers from various sections of Singapore

society. All speakers do so in their individual capacities.

5pm to 6pm: Guided tour of open-air exhibition and exhibits

6pm to 7pm: “Lim-kopi” with survivors of the 1987 “Marxist Conspiracy”

Come and help raise awareness on the potential abuse of the ISA.

Your presence will help reconcile past hurts and unify Singapore again.

Desired outcomes

We hope these activities would:

a. Raise awareness on the misuse of the ISA in the past;

b. Raise awareness of the danger on the continued existence of the ISA which may lead to complacency of the authorities in dealing with real security threats to our country;

c. Work towards the abolition of the ISA; and

d. Press the government to welcome the return of those who have been forced into exile because of the ISA, such a move being the first step towards national reconciliation and healing for all parties.

Friday, 4 May 2012

The Leading Men: Tan Wah Piow and Vincent Chen

The relationship between Tan Wah Piow (TWP) and Vincent Cheng (VC) was kindled in 1972 when the younger TWP, then a University of Singapore student joined the Jurong Industrial Mission (JIM). VC had been a salaried staff of JIM since 1971. In fact, TWP's involvement in JIM changed his life for it was also where he met his current wife Chew Beng Lan (CBL). CBL, a salaried staff of JIM since 1969, later left for London to be with TWP when he decided to exile himself after being drafted for NS.

TWP and CBL now reside in London with a son and although they have not set foot in Singapore since 1974, their son has been to Singapore according to this report.

JIM was a Catholic body formed to promote workers’ welfare but was allegedly used by leftists and Marxists to stir up industrial unrests in the Jurong factories. During the same period, the trio of TWP, VC and CBL were also active in Student Christian Movement of Singapore (SCMS) which was actively propagating Marxism among university students and organising protests actions.

JIM was closed in December 1972 after it had been involved in the agitation of industrial disputes where they ordered workers to ignore the directives of union leaders.

Despite being closed down, VC continued his work as a 'social worker' with the backing of radical SCMS members. In May 1973, a labour dispute at the Singapore Gulf Plastics culminated in a demonstration outside the American Embassy.

Besides labour issues, both TWP and VC were involved in agitations over the censure of the newspaper Singapore Herald in 1971 and a protest in December 1972 outside the US Embassy against the Vietnam War.

The close cooperation of TWP and VC subsequently led to the successful infiltration of the University of Singapore Students’ Union (USSU) where SCMS student activists, including Juliet Chin, were elected to the USSU Council in January 1974.

However, this was short-lived when TWP was imprisoned in Novemeber 1974 for the PIEU case while many key USSU activists were expelled. VC, however, remained in the SCMS as a staff worker and chairman (1974-1978).

As SCMS chairman in the mid-1970s, he had organised a discussion group to deepen members’ understanding of Marxism. Topics discussed include Communist Manifesto, the class struggle, Marxian economic theories and Lenin’s works. The publication called the New Q propagated the idea that communism is compatible with Christianity, and that the capital system is exploitative and unjust.

Despite being separated by the oceans, TWP and VC remained in contact with each other and it was charged that in May 1981 when VC visited TWP in London that VC was asked to penetrate a political party and other organisations to mobilise the workers. Earlier in Mar 1981, VC informed that his attempts to infiltrate the trade unions failed because of “tight government control”.

Although older in age, VC apparently looked up to TWP as the latter displayed the ability of mass mobilisation and a keen understanding of Communist doctrine. VC was also increasingly attracted to the strategy of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) as a result of his visits to the Philippines in 1977, 1982 and 1983 for conferences and workshops.

He was impressed by the CPP strategy of capturing control of certain Catholic social action agencies to advance the communist cause.

Influenced by CPP and TWP, VC and his group of activists supposedly began to penetrate local student and religious organisations by seeking employment as paid staff or by volunteering their services as advisers or helpers.

Their objectives were to talent spot and recruit supporters as well as to use these lawfully-established organisations as vehicles to advance their cause.