SINGAPORE – A second son of prominent senior lawyer Tan Chee Meng was sentenced to 12 weeks' jail on Wednesday (Oct 11) for defaulting on his National Service (NS) obligations for more than six years.
Isaac Tan’s sentence came a few months after his older brother, Jonathan, was sentenced to 16 weeks’ jail for the same offence, though the latter had stayed overseas without a valid exit permit for more than 10 years.
Isaac Tan, 25, also faced a charge of failing to comply with an order to report for NS registration, pre-enlistment documentation and medical screening.
Court documents stated that the siblings migrated to Canada with their mother and sister on Dec 1, 2000 - Isaac Tan was 8 years old at that time. The father, Senior Counsel Tan Chee Meng, continued living in Singapore to support his family financially.
The court was told that the decision to move out of Singapore was partly because the two boys could not cope with studying Mother Tongue Language. Isaac Tan also said he suffered from atopic dermatitis – a type of eczema that results in itchy, red, swollen and cracked skin – that can be exacerbated by Singapore’s hot and humid weather.
At some point, Jonathan, Isaac and their mother applied for and got Canadian citizenship. Isaac Tan got his in early 2005.
His offence of staying overseas without a valid exit permit stretched from March 16, 2009 – when he turned 16.5 years old and was legally required to register for NS – to Aug 5, 2015, when he returned.
The court was told that on Sept 8, 2009 Mr Tan Chee Meng had appealed for deferment from NS for his younger son until the latter turned 21, because he intended to renounce his Singapore citizenship. The Central Manpower Base (CMPB) rejected this.
The lawyer made another appeal two years later to CMPB to allow his son to renounce his Singapore citizenship without serving NS. This was also rejected.
Calling for a three-month jail term to be imposed, Deputy Public Prosecutor Tan Zhongshan said Isaac Tan was aware of his NS obligations since young.
Defence lawyer Josephine Choo, however, argued that a five-week jail term was sufficient, since her client’s medical condition imposed “inherent limitations” to his ability to serve NS. The family had also planned to emigrate permanently, she added.
In a statement after his second son Isaac was sentenced, Mr Tan said: "As a father, it is heart breaking to see my sons go to jail in circumstances such as these. I take responsibility for what happened and the law has to take its course."
In July, the High Court set new sentencing benchmarks for NS defaulters, based on the length of their default. This, the court said, was to reflect the decline in a person’s physical fitness with age, impairing their ability to fulfil their duties. It would also create a progressive disincentive for NS defaulters to delay their return, the court added.
The starting point for those who default NS for seven to 10 years, for instance, was set at five months’ imprisonment. The guideline was to add one month’s jail for each extra year of default after that.