Over the last 5 years, I have been privileged to meet and speak to some newsmakers, personalities and ordinary people. I would not have grown in my outlook on things if not for them. And in the process, some became my friends, others colleagues. But all have taught me a thing or two, certainly.
If you were to ask me which had the most profound effect on me, there is no doubt that it would be Vincent Cheng. I would never have thought that I would one day get to meet and speak to someone whom I vaguely recalled just a few years ago for his involvement in the alleged (in my opinion, false) “Marxist Conspiracy” of 1987.
Being a Catholic at that time (1987) when the incident happened, I knew somewhat about how a group of church workers were arrested, and how the archbishop was in the midst of it. Special mass were held to pray for them – but I wasn’t really cognisant of what actually had happened.
It was many years later – some 2 decades later, actually – that I had the opportunity to meet Vincent. It was a private gathering for a group of us friends to speak to him. And for 3 hours, Vincent related what actually had happened more than 2 decades earlier. It was chilling to hear him describe what happened then. At the same time, it was saddening how his life was taken away from him – on a whim of the state, in my opinion.
When the 3 hours was up, I was speechless. Literally. And I kept my thoughts very much to myself – feeling enraged inside and wondered if such a thing would ever happen again. And if it did, what would I do this time round?
Hopefully, these questions will not need to be answered for such things must never happen again.
Vincent is a soft-spoken man, ever with a smile. It is quite obvious that he would have made a great priest. Indeed, he had been in a seminary earlier to prepare to become a priest.
When you meet someone like him, you can’t but see the uglier side of life in Singapore.
Later, I also had the opportunity to meet and speak with other political detainees – such as Lim Hock Siew, Dominic Puthucheary, Poh Soo Kai, Teo Soh Lung, Wong Souk Yee, Tan Tee Seng, and others.
The thing that struck me most – all of them were gentle people, soft-spoken, and clearly with passion for what they believe in.
At the same time, it is also clear that what they went through have left a deep wound in their soul. It must – when you have a good part of your life taken away from you, and you have to spend the rest of it trying to get it back.
I do not even know how that feels like.
When we talk of a national conversation, I wonder if there is room for us to address the injustice that those like Vincent were put through. Perhaps that would call for a national reconciliation exercise but it doesn’t look like it is going to happen anytime soon.
Still, if we want to talk about what kind of society we want in 20 years, as Minister Heng Swee Keat said, then surely we must address issues such as the Internal Security Act (ISA) by which Vincent and the rest were incarcerated, allegedly tortured, and had their lives – and everything that comes with it – destroyed.
I want my country – and government – to never again do – and never be able to do – anything like this, and for my fellow men to not turn a blind eye if or when such things happen again.
This is the kind of society we want Singapore to be – 20 years from now and beyond.
Will we see an honest national conversation on the “Marxist Conspiracy” episode of 1987? It is one which we will have to have, sooner or later.