Opening of Parliament President's address

Singaporeans must reject violence, deepen mutual understanding

President Tony Tan Keng Yam (centre) opening Parliament on Jan 15.
President Tony Tan Keng Yam (centre) opening Parliament on Jan 15. ST PHOTO: LIM SIN THAI

With the threat from ISIS and terrorism getting more severe, Singapore has to be prepared and cannot rule out the possibility of an attack in the country, President Tony Tan Keng Yam said yesterday.

While the Government is "fully on guard" against the threat, Dr Tan urged every Singaporean to also play his role in keeping Singapore safe, both by rejecting violence and working to deepen mutual understanding between communities.

"The threat from ISIS and terrorism has increased significantly.

"Attacks elsewhere have shown that terrorism can arise at home, and not just come from abroad," he said, pointing to Thursday's bomb blasts in Jakarta as a reminder of how close to home terrorism can strike.

"A terrorist attack here will not only cause death and injury, but could also tear apart our social fabric," he said.

Having painted a clear picture of the security situation facing the country, Dr Tan said it was imperative that Singapore resists the impulse to divert attention and resources away from security as other domestic needs grow.

PERSISTENT THREAT

Terrorism has become a dangerous and persistent threat. Hundreds of terrorists from South-east Asia are fighting for ISIS in Syria and Iraq. Some of them have returned home with their networks, expertise and radical ideology. They want to establish a wilayat, a province under the ISIS caliphate, in the region. Yesterday's bomb blasts in Jakarta are a reminder of how close terrorism can strike. We are fully on guard against this threat, but we cannot rule out the possibility of an attack in Singapore.

PRESIDENT TONY TAN

"Our geopolitical realities remain unchanged from 50 years ago. We must continue to invest in our security and expand our international space through diplomacy," he said.

"If we cannot safeguard our sovereignty, we cannot secure our livelihoods."

The security climate also means it is even more important now to keep Singapore united and resilient, and to preserve its multiracial harmony, he added.

Quoting part of the National Pledge, he said: "If we trust and accept one another 'regardless of race, language or religion', we will remain strong and united even if others seek to sow fear and division amongst us."

Mr Vikram Nair, who is chairman of the Government Parliamentary Committee (GPC) for Defence and Foreign Affairs, said Dr Tan's speech was a good reminder that the terrorism threat in the region has grown, even if Singaporeans may not feel it.

"Singaporeans always feel very safe at home and tend to take security for granted, and the blast in Jakarta is a reminder that things are not so safe, and that security should remain a priority," he said.

Mr Nair added that while the nation's defence has to be strong, he is also interested to see the policies different ministries have in their addenda to the President's Address next week to strengthen unity at home.

"It's important to see what we can do to build up our society from inside as well, to prevent terror groups from influencing citizens from within the country," he added.

"And this has to be part of a larger strategy, as cohesiveness doesn't come under any one ministry."

Mr Christopher de Souza, GPC chairman for Home Affairs and Law, said the Jakarta attacks show that Singapore can never be overprepared when it comes to security.

"The Home Team must continue to be highly vigilant and continue to work with Singaporeans and the resident population to detect and deter threats from our shores."

Should Singapore be attacked, he added, "we have to work as one united people to overcome the challenges and retain our social and community cohesion".

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 16, 2016, with the headline 'S'poreans must reject violence, deepen mutual understanding'. Print Edition | Subscribe