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SPEECH BY MR ONG YE KUNG, MINISTER FOR HEALTH, AT SINGAPORE ARMED FORCES DAY COMBINED RE-DEDICATION CEREMONY, 30 JUNE 2023, 9.30AM, AT SUNTEC CITY CONVENTION & EXHIBITION CENTRE

Mr Lennon Tan, President, Singapore Manufacturing Federation

 

Brigadier-General Lee Yi-Jin, Chief of Digital and Intelligence Service, Ministry of Defence

 

Mr Ng Tian Beng, Organising Chairman, 2023 Singapore Armed Forces Day Combined Re-Dedication Ceremony (East Zone)

 

Distinguished guests

 

Ladies and gentlemen

 

     I am very glad to join you in commemorating Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) Day, and in acknowledging the contributions of our National Servicemen.

 

2.     Father’s Day has just passed. I can vividly remember the memory of first becoming a father. That moment wasn’t when the baby was born, but during my first visit to the gynaecologist with my wife. As the ultrasound went over her stomach, we could see the vague image of a pea, and the doctor said, “This is the foetus.”. In the middle of the foetus, there was a blurry spot blinking. The doctor pointed it out and said “That’s the heartbeat.”.

 

3.     I guess at the very nascent stage of life, the heartbeat is what the doctor looked out for. Because the heart is the first organ to be formed in a foetus, as it circulates blood and delivers oxygen and nutrients to the rest of the foetus, so that it grows and develops. Over time, the heart becomes a complex organ, with chambers, valves, arteries and muscles that never stop working until we die.

 

4.     Likewise, in the formation and birth of a nation, the heart needs to develop first. In the nation-building context, it represents the will and conviction to be independent, self-reliant, the master of our own fate as a united people, to protect what we have because we don’t own what we cannot protect. That spirit is intangible, yet so powerful, that it spawns and nourishes other parts of the nation – the economy, society, infrastructure and our institutions.

 

5.     That spirit also epitomises the formation and development of the SAF. The journey to self-determination and independence must start with being able to defend ourselves against potential aggressors. That was instilled by our founding fathers more than 55 years ago – not long after our independence – and then National Service (NS) was introduced. This abiding belief continues to hold true throughout the multiple crises that Singapore has witnessed and gone through.

 

6.     The SAF, as a critical part of our nation, just like the muscles of our heart, will never stop working. NS is how then we as individual Singaporeans contribute towards our self-determination as a nation.

 

7.     Since then, our security environment has changed. We are no longer pre-occupied with Communist insurgents, relationships with our neighbours are constructive and positive today, and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) is effective in maintaining peace and promoting regional cooperation.

 

8.     But we have to grapple with other threats and risks. Extremist terrorists may not be as prominent in their activities, but they continue to be a threat. We live in an era of geopolitical uncertainties and great power rivalry, which can spark off unintended consequences and conflicts. Conflicts occur not just in physical domains, but also in the digital and information space, which in turn influence the hearts and minds of our people.

 

9.     These are new threats and the SAF has been adapting to these new realities. It is constantly upgrading its capabilities, revising training methods, forging partnerships with foreign armed forces, and has established the Digital and Intelligence Service as its fourth service.

 

10.     I believe most of us, like me, are confident that the SAF will continue to keep Singapore safe and deter aggressors. This is despite the fact that day to day, we do not see any prominent display of the strength, capability and agility of the SAF, and quite deliberately so. We only see glimpses of it during occasions like National Day or the Services’ open houses. This is for a good reason, because the SAF is and should be the ultimate and final line of protection for Singapore when all else fails and things go seriously wrong.

 

11.     But on very rare occasions, we get to experience the capability of the SAF when it is called upon to help out other ministries in a non-security related crisis. This was what happened during the COVID-19 pandemic, and the Ministry of Health (MOH) and I are extremely grateful to the SAF for being an indispensable force during this once-in-a-generation health crisis.

 

12.     They were critical in planning and executing operations such as logistics support, contact tracing, foreign workers’ dormitory management, home recovery programme and the National Vaccination Programme. SAF did not just deliver manpower, though it was largely appreciated. What was most valuable was its knowhow and ability to oversee national level operations involving the masses. As some of the SAF officers serving in MOH told me, they are not afraid of big numbers. The SAF deals with tens, hundreds and thousands of people, and they are not afraid of dealing with big numbers.

 

13.     When the SAF appeared at MOH’s doorstep, it did not feel like an external force has come to help. It felt more like a friend has arrived. I think this is because, at least for the NSmen, we are familiar with the SAF, and we are in fact part of the SAF. This is my SAF, coming forth to help my ministry, to fight a national health crisis.

 

14.     That is the powerful idea behind Singapore’s nation-building effort. Every one of us plays a part, through NS or otherwise, to build up that strong, capable final line of defence to protect our independence, freedom and sovereignty. We are responsible for our own defence. And that will be the conviction that will continue to come from our heart.

 

15.     Hence, on every SAF Day, different organisations re-dedicate their commitment to build Singapore’s defence. I thank the Singapore Manufacturing Federation (SMF) for organising today’s ceremony, and for inviting me.

 

16.     With our philosophy of total defence, which includes military, civil, economic, social, digital and psychological defence, we can all contribute to defence on a day-to-day basis. For an organisation like the SMF, the investments made and jobs created by your member organisations contribute to our economic resilience, and our ability to earn a living for ourselves. Your support of your employees to fulfil their NS duties helps maintain the readiness of the SAF. Your Corporate and Social Responsibility programmes extend support to vulnerable individuals and families, and contribute towards our social defence.

 

17.     Over the horizon, we face another imminent major health challenge, which I think is bigger and more severe than COVID-19, and that is the rapid ageing of our workforce. It is a major social transformation that we have not seen in Singapore’s history. If we do not adequately address this, far more people will be inflicted with ill health than during the COVID-19 pandemic.

 

18.     Like defence, it will require the Government to do more to support the people, and the people to exercise more personal responsibility and do their part to take care of their own health. Like the SAF which we are all part of, we must collectively make our population healthier.

 

19.     There is much that SMF and your member companies can do to promote good health. You can support workers to stay economically active – the longer the better; and guide and encourage them to look after their health. Employees, residents and individuals, like all of us, can be very stubborn with our daily life habits, but we listen to a few people – loved ones usually but sometimes also employers. You can also help them inculcate good eating, sleeping, exercise-related habits; and go for regular health screening that you can facilitate, and vaccination. Get all your eligible employees enrolled in Healthier SG and embark on a health journey.

 

20.     On this occasion of SAF Day, let us all dedicate our commitment to continue to build our nation, with the firm belief that it is the accumulation of our individual efforts that accord us strong defence, resilience against a pandemic crisis, or healthy longevity. It is our collective individual heartbeats that keep our nation’s heartbeat going strong.

21.     Thank you, and I wish everybody a happy SAF Day.

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