Total Defence Day 2012

February 15, 2012

15 FEBRUARY 2012

Message From Minister for Defence, Dr Ng Eng Hen


Every year on Total Defence Day, 15 February, Singaporeans re-commit ourselves to defend our sovereignty. It is only as an independent nation, that we are able to treasure the ability to decide our own future and to preserve our way of life. This ability to chart and determine our destiny must be fought and won by each generation, and every Singaporean in that generation, because it can be lost. Because we remember our past when others, not Singaporean themselves, determined our fate.

Over the years, therefore, MINDEF has tried to encourage each Singaporean through the Total Defence campaign, to express their support for Total Defence. So if you remember in 2009, the TD campaign asked, “What will you defend?”. I remember in 2009, because I was already in the Ministry of Defence, I was cheered when many Singaporeans responded heartily and submitted short video clips. For those of you who have been in charge of campaigns or events, you will know that one of the most challenging formats is when you leave it open-ended, when you introduce an idea and you are not quite sure what the response would be. So when we started “What will you defend?”, we waited for a response, for Singaporeans to express themselves. We saw and watched the videos that came in, some were not very high-tech and each of them had their own message and had their own take on what they would defend. What they would defend ranged from their families, their friends and schools. I remember there was a clip of a young girl, I think she was in her teens, and she showed her own school, where she no longer went to, and she said that this was a memory that she would defend. It was very touching and personal. Each may have been a different take on what they would defend but all were united in their belief that this was what they would fight to protect in our Home. And I am sure that most of you would have your own story. We have come a long way in our Total Defence campaign and I will honestly tell you that in MINDEF, whether it is Minister, or Chief of Defence Force or Chief of Services, or MINDEF staff, we always ask ourselves, are we making a difference? Is Total Defence something that Singaporeans take seriously? All of this effort that you have put in, a lot of hours and practice to perform to come up with a song, the videos, the four events that are spread out on Total Defence Day. Does this make a difference in the end?

But Total Defence is not just a mere exercise, a lip service. For me, I will tell you that it is very real, and I will share with you two instances in our recent history where Total Defence made a big difference. Most of you are old enough to remember these events. All of us experienced the need for Total Defence after 911 and SARS, and the economic crises that followed. When 911 happened, we were able to quickly step up security measures to deal with non-conventional security threats because there was a possibility of chemical and biological attacks. We could discuss sensitive issues openly and candidly because we had built up trust among all races. It could have gone very wrong, just like in other countries. It was because we were united and hardened our defences that we averted a planned attack on Singapore, which was diverted elsewhere to softer targets. Listen to my words carefully – we averted a planned attack in Singapore, but those of you in security agencies, you will know what I mean. We averted real plans to attack Singapore and were spared a devastating blow if indeed it happened in Singapore. That was 911.

When SARS broke out, everyone, from school children to the health authorities, played their part to contain the spread of the deadly virus. You will remember how schools were quarantined, how school children were quarantined and even some classes were closed. Individual families were quarantined in their homes and there was a particular incident that affected my own constituency. We had fast forwarded with the infectious diseases act, asked for the bill to be quickly passed, because we didn’t have laws to quarantine people to stop the spread of disease. In my constituency, there were families which had a quarantine order and I would receive a notice on which families were quarantined. One day, it occurred to me, if they were quarantined, how would they buy their groceries? So I called up my grassroots Chairman and said how are these families getting their groceries? He told me not to worry about it, it was given to them. I asked what he meant and he said that they went to buy groceries and had given it to those families. So I said, “But if you gave it to them, you would be quarantined!” They said,” We are not so dumb. What we do is that we put the groceries in front of the door and we knock, before moving to the side of the corridor and wait to make sure that they pick up the groceries.” I said, “How do you know their phone numbers?” They replied that they had asked the neighbours. It was spontaneous effort by community organisations, through years of socialising, community bonding, that they have learned to take care of one another, without having a top-down decision or motivation. They just knew that families needed and they responded very spontaneously, out of their own pocket.

These two incidents tell me that what we are doing on a regular basis does count because a strong and coherent Total Defence protects us as it enables us to be prepared for unexpected threats and challenges. We build up this capability in times of peace with everyone doing their bit. Each of us has a part to play, whether it is in building our military capabilities and emergency response programmes, establishing robust economic systems, building good schools, colleges like this, or as neighbours, forging tight bonds with fellow Singaporeans, or rallying each other together so that we are psychological resilient to shocks. We have done well so far, but unfortunately, past achievements do not guarantee a secure future. Keeping Total Defence strong is a continuous effort and it is now the turn of this generation of Singaporeans to build on the hard work of our forefathers and pass it on to our next generation. That is the reason for the TD theme for 2012 – It’s My Turn – is thus most apt. Whether it is in the military, civil defence or any other sector of society, the responsibility has come to us, the present generation, to appreciate what has been handed down to us, play our part to make it stronger, and then pass it on to our children.

This year’s campaign showcases Singaporeans who are doing their part to help their fellow Singaporeans. For instance, the students of Fairfield Methodist Secondary School put together hampers and distributed them to the needy families in Telok Blangah in conjunction with Chinese New Year. A group of students from the Nanyang Technological University collaborated with local artists to design T-shirts and collaterals to raise funds for the upgrading of the Boys’ Town Hostel. I also understand that there are more activities to come. The RSAF will be hosting children from Club Rainbow at the Singapore Airshow, and the residents of MacPherson Constituency will be coming together to paint murals on the walls of the void deck of one of its HDB blocks. Yu Lun, a 20-year-old boy who is passionate about film and music, will be conducting a music video production workshop for youths, while Walter Lim, a professional drummer, has offered to hold free “junk jamming” lessons for youths participating in the “Carnival of Drums”, organised by the Students Care Service. I am citing these examples because we want to show that individual acts may not have a huge impact but, collectively, they make a point and they make the difference.

These Singaporeans have stepped forward because they believe it is their turn to do their part for Singapore and Singaporeans. They rolled up their sleeves, rallied their friends and contributed their time and energy to make our society a more caring and a bonded one. And when the social fabric is strong we will be able to stand united in the face of any crisis.

National Service is another critical area where each new generation of male Singaporeans enlist into NS, to undertake their duty passed down from one generation to the next. It is therefore most appropriate that we will be commemorating 45 years of NS this year with the theme “From Fathers to Sons”. Each NS man is crucially supported by the women in their lives – mothers, sisters, wives or girlfriends.

We have more than 2000 students, 2,286 students, from 676 teams, about 25% more than last year, and they are taking part in the N.E.mation! 6 competition this year to pit their creative skills against one another in interpreting what this theme “From Fathers to Sons” means to them. I am sure many of you have seen the clips, very creative, heartwarming and innovative, and I would like to commend all the participants for their effort. I must say that from year to year, the animation clips reflect a high level of maturity and depth of understanding. In particular, I would like to applaud Evergreen Secondary School for trying every year and making it to the top 10 this year. Well done! It is also heartening to know that the Kent Ridge Secondary School has two teams in the Top 10 this year. A great achievement! All these efforts are most reassuring because it means that the younger generation has understood and internalised this need to defend ourselves.

If each new generation of Singaporeans commit themselves strongly to defend this Home we love and treasure, then indeed our future is secure and bright.

Thank you.

Jurongville Secondary School NPCC Unit

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