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Stereotyping filial piety and the hypocrisy of MCYS

Thinkfamily, a campaign started by the National Family Council, which is under the Ministry of Community Development, Youth and Sports (MCYS), recently released a new ad on filial piety.

At first glance, the ad appears to be a powerful moving public service announcement promoting filial piety, but reading commentary such as this published in the ST letters soon convinced me otherwise. Firstly why is there a need to stereotype elderly folks as demanding and unreasonable, and younger ones as selfish and uncaring? Is the MCYS ad, which is presumably funded by taxpayers’ money, promoting filial piety at the expense of propagating hurtful stereotypes of people? It’s also not clear if the grandmother was afflicted with dementia, but if this explains her boorish behaviour, is the ad implying that the son should give in to her (unreasonable) demands, which may be borne out of irrational dementia, without considering the needs of his immediate family?

Also, if the grandmother was indeed senile, there’s no indication in the ad that her son ever sought treatment for it. Instead it seems to imply that one should not disrespect the elderly’s past sacrifices by attempting to treat her dementia or even recognising it as a problem in itself. Is this a message the MCYS is attempting to convey?

Secondly, is there a need for the ad to implicitly side with the man’s mother against that of his immediate family? A perennial question some spouses ask of their significant other is to choose between saving their life  or that of their parents should a choice have to be made.  This is a painful choice, should it ever arise, of the individual themselves and I do not think the state has a right to implicitly endorse either option.  If this is what the MCYS is implicitly endorsing, then the same reasoning would apply to the spouse’s parents, that she has the right to do what it takes to placate her parents at the expense of going against her own family, even if this conflicts with the same objective the son is trying to achieve by being filial to his parents.  The result would be a broken nuclear family, hardly a picture the MCYS would endorse.  Interestingly, the MCYS ad neatly sidesteps this possibility by showing only the husband’s mother.

Lastly, and I believe this is the most important point about the ad, the MCYS ad appears to be downright hypocritical when it comes to care for elderly folks. Leong Sze Hian pointed out in a TOC article last year that the Public Assistance scheme targeted at elderly folks, run by the MCYS, imposes strict criterion for person seeking help from the state with just about half of all applicants rejected:

When the question was last asked in parliament as to the rejection rate for applications for the Public Assistance  scheme, the answer was that about 50 per cent  were  rejected.

As there are only about 3,000 Singaporeans receiving public assistance, the question that needs to be raised is whether the criteria to qualify is too strict?

Leong highlighted that the requirements of not being able to work effectively rules out all childless elderly folks whom are still capable of collecting cardboard boxes and empty drink cans, somewhat torturous work for someone in the sunset years of their life.

The other requirements for qualifying for support is as follows::

From July this year, needy Singaporeans whose CPF payouts under the Minimum Sum Scheme or CPF LIFE are less than the prevailing Public Allowance rate can be considered for the scheme.

They must meet all the other criteria.

These include not being able to work, having no assets and receiving little or no family support.

Furthermore, it is evident that the criteria for “having no assets” would also rule out old folks whom are not able to work but whom own a flat they are unable to tap for cash grants.  An option would be to sell their flat but where will they live when they do so? Singapore’s steadily growing cost of living ensures that rental payments would only increase in value, and it’s not certain if they can muster enough cash to see themselves through the rest of their lives.

Finally, to add insult to injury, for those poor few whom qualify for it would receive only a measly $360 monthly, with no indication that the rate would be indexed for inflation:

The current rate is S$360 per month.

With glaring shortcomings such as the above, and the government’s ideological adherence to a “welfare breeds dependency” mindset, one can only wonder if the sole purpose of the ad is to instill feelings of guilt into adult Singaporeans whilst the state shirks its responsibility in caring for the elderly.

Update: The ad campaign cost $1.6M:

Just imagine if this amount were instead directed to helping another 370 poor elderly folks for a year under the Public Assistance scheme.  That number could easily be doubled to 740 elderly persons if the the minister running MCYS, Dr Vivian Balakrishnan had opted to forgo his extravagant salary for the year.  Maybe then we’ll see fewer elderly folks scrounging around for cardboard boxes and empty drink cans just to survive the last decades of their lives.


Written by defennder

June 24, 2010 at 5:02 PM

8 Responses

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  1. This filial piety thing is a politics of distraction. This is explained here in this election rally by James Gomez:

    Here is a partial list of problems of things that have happened in the last 4-5 years that have grown to be major issues:

    – immigration (Jobs going to foreigners, more than half of some casino jobs going to foreigners, NS for Singaporeans, housing effect …)
    – housing (expensive housing, dorms for foreigners, rules favouring PRs, homelessness …)
    – Loss of life savings in toxic financial products
    – Loss in sovereign wealth funds (Temasek and GIC)
    – the security of the MRT system
    – flooding
    – The case where ST reported that an SAF regular was injured, but ignored the injury to the NSF
    – The report on human trafficking
    – High salaries of ministers
    – CPF withdrawals
    – High GST and levies…
    – Poor quality of debate in parliament, and the ineffectiveness of these debates to result in change, since 66% of parliament is PAP
    – Cooling day
    – More NCMPs in parliament
    – Lim Hock Siew’s speech on ISA
    – casino, and recent murders, and crime rates
    – Town council rankings (LKY and LHL’s TC’s were the best! The gods weren’t too happy about that, and hence the flooding)
    – Human transplant (There was this case of a convicted murderer who was hanged, and his organs immediately harvested for transplant)
    – Various gaffes (daft, spurs in hinds, elite girl, fix opposition, do not want to be platoon commander, deaf frog, old and lazy workers…)

    As long as the topic is anything but these, you have been successfully distracted.

    As a further example of the politics of distraction, there was a recent election in the US where one election candidate made some remark about chickens, and this chicken reference was played up to distract voters from the other candidate’s unpopularity.

    It would be good if an online avenue educates the public on what this filial piety thing is: It is just meant to distract the public from its (the PAP’s) recent failures.


    June 25, 2010 at 5:52 PM

  2. It truly amazes me that Singaporeans still condone such propaganda by the Government to misuse “filial piety” value to shirk responsibility of providing their fair share of public welfare to the downtrodden.

    Welfare is not a dirty word. Welfare dependency is not a disease. Welfare is a public service – as such an insurance scheme for the less fortunate. Welfare dependents need help, not ad campaigns.

    I would not be surprised if there is no public outcry over this expensive $1.6 million spent on this short clip that are portrayed in many similar scenes in local and foreign drama series screened on local TV channels over many years past. It proves that media propaganda is still effective in Singapore.

    Instead of moving towards self-reliance and being financially independent as we age and away from dependency on children for our retirement, we have a government stucked at espousing a traditional value as an excuse for not assisting the needy. It is also doing this without realizing that it is telling the current working generation to be dependent on the future generation.

    If I am the grandson, I would be most annoyed with the Government and at the same time worried. With people living longer than ever before, he is staring at having to take care of 4 generations under one roof under current Government policies.

    For the sake of all generations, we all need to wake up and make the necessary real changes. Current policies should not be sacred and remained unchallenged. The Government position on welfare is one policy that is not sustainable going forwards.



    June 25, 2010 at 7:04 PM

  3. So much of eloquence but lack of substance. I think before you, J and BABO start to blame the government for everything under the sun, ask yourselves what have you done to resolve the issue. Stop skirting around the real issues and shift the blame to others.

    This is the problem with you lot of people: Selfish, uncaring, indifferent, irresponsible, pretentious, hypocrisy, lack of accountability, lack of courtesy and ingratitude.

    Ask yourselves some basic questions:-
    1) Have you been respecting your parents and treat them well?
    2) Have you been taken a good care of those people around you?
    3) Have you been expressing gratitude to those people around you?

    But from your pompous blog post, it clearly shows you have done nothing much useful to create benefit for others. Rather, you chose to criticise others and divert the attention away from your own shortcomings.

    So, before you start posting any pompous, holier than thou and self righteousness posts. Before you start shouting slogans of saving the world, save the whales, save the forests or whatever, get your basics right first by starting from yourself, then your family and then the rest. If you can’t even do the basics to create harmony within your own little circle, then forget about the rest.

    I suggest you to go out there and start contributing something useful and beneficial to your family and the people around you.

    Sitting in the computer all day and posting such whining and lack of substance material will not help anyone. The world has more than enough of such trashy opinions, we do not need yours.


    June 27, 2010 at 4:42 AM

  4. Self-righteousness is a horrible thing to perceive and be angry about, because the only way to not be hypocritical about it, in the end, is to look inward and realize that one can never have full certainty of one’s judgement against someone else.

    Some basic questions to think about after reading NK’s post is this:
    1) How much do we know people who make these posts, and how certain are we of aspects of them such as their contributions to society (or lack thereof)?

    2) What are terms such as “eloquence”, “substance”, “ingratitude” etc. but a reflection of our own subjective standards of judgement?

    In the end, I do wish that this blog post was actually reworded slightly. It might just be a slight bit less objectionable to call the ad ironic, rather than say that MCYS or its ad is hypocritical.

    MCYS and the ad are not agents. They can’t be hypocritical. Perhaps the higherups are hypocritical, but we don’t know for sure, afterall, what were the processes which led to the video.

    Maybe that would give it sufficient substance for NK to discuss his own views of the issues rather than depoliticize everything and favour ad hominem attacks.

    In response to NK

    June 27, 2010 at 5:26 PM

  5. “propagating hurtful stereotypes of people”?

    I thought the ad didn’t go that far. I thought it was quite believable, and didn’t see anything particularly generalizing about it.

    Maybe you’re reading too much into it.


    July 5, 2010 at 2:18 PM

  6. J

    That’s not exactly how I would see it. Personally I believe it’s less to do with distracting and diverting discourse from everyday bread and butter issues than it is with social engineering, trying to implant the ideals of Confucius thought into everyday lives of Singaporeans.


    In many ways I think certain government policies have exacerbated the problem of old working elderly folks. For example the birth control policies of the 1960s-1980s, whilst beneficial to the economy at the time reduced the number of offspring for which today’s elderly could have depended upon for financial and emotional support in their sunset years. And I do believe it’s also true that filial piety is largely a Confucian concept which is espoused by the most senior minister in office today in Singapore. The Wikipedia page on filial piety is a good indication of the philosophical justification on that. Back to the point, I also observe that the government’s policy of throwing open the floodgates to foreign workers is making things worse for elderly folks whom are forced to collect drinking cans or work as cleaners for a living. Their wages are being depressed by the influx of cheap labour.

    In response to NK

    Reading through NK’s response made me realise something, that there is no attempt at all by him/her to address even a single point or argument raised by the post. The comment is littered with ad hominem attacks, the greatest irony of which is to note that his/her characterisation of the post as self-serving and pompous is duly exhibited by the nature of his/her remarks themselves. But enough about this.

    How exactly would re-wording the post change any of whatever was written above? If instead of “hypocrisy of MCYS”, the term “failure of MCYS” was used instead (as it was titled originally), would it alter the piece noticeably? The same points I made would still have been valid, and I would point out, completely unaddressed by comments made so far. There has not been any dispute about what I have written about the adequacy of the Public Assistance scheme, or the notion that the money spent on this ad could have been better spent on public assistance.

    As for the notion that MCYS is hypocritical, I believe I’ve pointed out in the post and in my remarks to BABO itself that certain government policies have only exarcerbated the problem of caring for the elderly folks in Singapore, the proverbial parents of Singapore’s economic success in its early years. That the state would exhort the current generation to take primary responsibility of the older generation whilst the same actors champion policies which worsens the same problem strikes me as somewhat hypocritical.


    I guess everyone is entitled to their own opinion. Personally I took offense with the appearance portrayed by the ad that the state appeared to be taking sides in an in-law conflict. Furthermore, the notion of mothers-in-law coming into conflict with married lives figures prominently in real life divorce cases in Malaysia, Singapore’s closest neighbour:

    This is hardly a role the state should be playing, and certainly not one conducive to the well-being of the nuclear family, as I’ve pointed out above.


    July 5, 2010 at 3:41 PM

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