Monday, 25 May 2015

Review: Priest in Geylang

Father Guillaume Arotcarena standing

Definitely, this is not an objective account of the events in 1987 from a neutral standpoint. Reading Father Guillaume Arotcarena's account of the Marxist Conspiracy arrests won't shed more light on why 22 individuals were arrested under the ISA in May 1987. What the Father said is predictably similar to what the detainees plead innocence to; that they were only involved in social/church work, helping foreign workers, ex-criminals and other under-privileged people, then the PAP government suddenly accused them of being linked to the Communist Party of Malaya and attempting to topple the state through unconstitutional means. 

But if all these were true, why did the government risk the enormous blow-back from civil society and the Catholic Church, something still felt today, by detaining these people without trial? If these are all social do-gooders, why did the ISD needed to act in such a fashion? What information did the security agencies have?

As expected, the priest did not mention Vincent Cheng's and Wong Souk Yee's links with the Communist Party of Philippines nor the fact that Chung Lai Mei, one of those arrested, had a photo showing her in a LTTE militant training camp in India.

But what's really interesting in this book is the internal workings of the Catholic Church during the Marxist Conspiracy.

For example on pg 105, Father Guillaume Arotcarena wrote of the tension between him and the Archbishop, "We also knew that the Archbishop of Singapore (Gregory Yong) would not even try to protect us. We had gone to see him a few months earlier in order to tell him our worries: We had been dismissed. He did not want to get involved."

Again on pg 32, "...the Archbishop (was) always reticent when faced with any kind of change, and above all, anxious to avoid rough weather. Some of his advisors reckoned that we were going to create trouble for the diocese; I must admit, today, that they were right but I regret nothing."

Archbishop Gregory Yong

The four Catholic priests, Fathers Joseph Ho, Patrick Goh, Edgar D'Souza and Guillaume Arotcarena, who were suspended by the Archbishop in the aftermath of the arrests felt that it was an attack on the Catholic Church: "...nobody believed in a 'Marxist Conspiracy' and everybody agreed that it was operation meant to destroy the Catholic movements which were thought to be too active in social areas."  (pg 112)

Father Guillaume Arotcarena did not have courteous words for the Vicar-General at that time, Monsignor Francis Lau. He alluded to Lau being an ISD mole, "At that time we did not know yet that one of his close advisors, who attended the meeting, was working hand in glove with the ISD." (pg 105)

Similarly, on pg 120, Arotcarena wrote of Francis Lau, "With some men, it is at times difficult to figure out what comes first: hypocrisy or stupidity. The combination of the two is definitely unbearable."

There are more interesting stories in the book, although they are not entirely related to the Marxist arrests. As a clergyman, the author is quite sharp in observing the vicissitudes of the human life. Hope to share more soon. 

Monsignor Francis Lau

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