Death Makes a Better Man (Mini-series on capital punishment)

I’m sniffing and holding back my tears, and turned to the side and see my sister’s swollen eyes transfixed on the screen. I may be tearless but I’m crying my hearts out inside, watching the tragic moments unfold before my eyes.

The Australia drama mini-series is called Better Man. Surprisingly, it’s only two parts long, but delivered one heck of a story! It is based on a true story about a 20-year old Australian-Vietnamese boy named ‘Van’, who went to extreme means to lift his family from a financial pit. Unfortunately, he was caught, convicted of drug trafficking in Singapore and sentenced to death. Ultimately, it is a story of faith, love and hope.

The success of this film is due to its capacity to provoke a dialogue with the public. If it wasn’t for this film, I would still have been one of those who will readily condemn any person painted as a drug trafficker in the media without being properly informed about the convicted (“He deserves it!”). A lot of issues are touched in the film but the main one is capital punishment. I am ashamed to say that this is what prompted me to challenge the concept of capital punishment, and not from my belief in the sanctity of every human life.

I have made some strong personal connections with Van, sharing values and characteristics in him that portrays the essence of youth… and youth cut short. Some of my views on Singapore has been disturbed, where before I longed viewed Singapore as a morally righteous and just country. Scenes in my head keep playing on rewind, changing crucial moments for the better. I’ve gained renewed hope for people who work for the greater good and not for personal gain, like the lawyers who took the daunting task of defending Van. I feel that after watching Better Man, I learned that I have a responsibility to better inform myself than rushing into an opinion.

Source: The Daily Telegraph, Australia

I beg you to watch the episodes here while you still can. And I hope that at the end of it, not only are you crying or feeling upset but also thinking for yourself, asking yourself where you stand when it comes to integrity in the media and justice system.

These are some of what went through my mind after watching Better Man:

Is capital punishment, sentencing death upon a person, fair? Are there certain criminal offences that are more deserving of death? Is drug trafficking equivalent to murder? Why? If wrongly convicted, does capital punishment fail to serve as a deterrent and why? Or does that effectively highlight the fallibility of or possibility of corruption in the justice system in expense of a life? Do you immediately believe that one deserves a particular punishment, even death, only after knowing what one is convicted for without background knowledge of the convicted? Do people who have opposing opinions on a matter, case or issue make you uncomfortable, as if they are forcing their opinions on you? Do majority of the people around you share the same opinions? Are you ready to oppose them when your values are challenged?

What are yours?


Scared of Being Wrong – My education in Singapore

“Hey,” she said softly, “you’re not used to answering questions. Why?”
“Scared!” someone offered, but she was not quick enough to see who it was.
“Scared of what?”
“Of being wrong!”

While reading the book Rice Bowl by Suchen Christine Lim, I came to realize that I haven’t written anything about my upbringing in Singapore which took the most significant part of my life. In fact, I lived in Singapore longer than in the Philippines or in Australia where I currently reside. I bought this book in an op shop whilst trying my luck in finding popular books such as The Alchemist at a ridiculously low price (no luck!). The book’s cover and the statement that includes both the words ‘Singapore’ and ‘Philippine’ caught my attention. But a quick read of the blurb sold it!

Although I only finished Secondary One (or First Year high school) in Singapore and continued my studies here in Australia, I could relate to the Pre-University (I’m assuming that’s Fourth Year high school?) students in the novel. I remember the feelings of fear and respect for the teachers. I felt like an empty vessel, only there to be filled up by the teachers. I expected the teachers to provide both the questions and the answers, and unless the question have never been asked before, we’re expected to answer it correctly. I was one of the three senior prefect leaders in our school and vice-class leader in some of my classes, so there were big expectations of being a role model to my peers. You may see that as significant accomplishments but I feel like those came about due to my passive obedience to authority and their system. Like, you know, just drifting along.

Our curriculum was structured in a way where there were no real discussions, answers were either black or white and how well you did were solely determined by the letters you receive in your end-of-term report card. The questions the teachers ask had predetermined answers – I don’t remember a teacher ever asking for our opinions on a matter. Mistakes and wrong answers were to be avoided. Students were sorted into classes according to how many correct answers they’ve made and those who did really well were over-glorified. I remember the feeling of disappointment and discouragement when I found out the following year that I’ve dropped from class A to class B. I wasn’t terrified of making wrong answers. But I was scared, scared that if I make too much, the consequences could become severe. I didn’t want my mistakes to be the reason of being held back, especially in Singapore where education and order is top priority.

I don’t know – I was very young and naive back then, and maybe the only way to survive in Singapore and get an education is obedience to the system. It may also be because since it was just a primary school, everyone is taught to focus on a standard set of lessons to gain knowledge that will help us develop into better inquirers. It probably was too early to start rebelling or thinking bigger. Maybe the questioning and the exploring starts in high school where I only spent a year in. Also, the story is set in the 1960s, the time when Singapore gained its independence from British rule and much would have changed in the system. But one thing for sure, we weren’t given opportunities to think about bigger, more universal questions like ‘What is the meaning of life?’ and answer it elegantly and confidently, without any hint of fear of being wrong, and with a profound analogy, like the kid below.

PS: I’m not posting as much as I would have liked to! Also, I haven’t posted that many about my holidays in the Philippines. It’s taking longer than I expected! I hope, eventually, I get better in managing and organizing my time so that I can blog more often.