Senior Counsel's younger son found guilty of NS evasion

Nigel Chin
SAF national servicemen seen at the Army Open House event held at the F1 Pit Building in May. (PHOTO: Dhany Osman / Yahoo News Singapore)

A man who defaulted on his national service (NS) obligations and remained outside of Singapore for more than six years without an exit permit was found guilty on Friday (6 October).

Tan Yang En Isaac, the younger son of senior lawyer Tan Chee Meng, had admitted to three charges under the Enlistment Act in the State Courts.

Isaac’s older brother, Jonathan Tan Huai-En, was also found guilty in February this year for defaulting on NS and was slated to start serving his four-month jail term on Friday (6 October) after withdrawing his appeal.

The younger Tans had left Singapore together with their sister and mother to migrate to Canada in December 2000 without the intention of returning. Isaac was eight years old at that time.

Isaac traveled in and out of Singapore on three occasions between 14 January 2001 and 22 March 2002.  He took up Canadian citizenship in 2005, while still holding onto his Singapore citizenship. Isaac was required to obtain a valid exit permit as from 16 March 2009, after he turned 16 and a half years old but he did not do so.

Four days later, an NS registration notice was sent to his father’s lawyers to ask Isaac to register for NS between 1 April 2009 and 21 April 2009. The lawyers informed the Central Manpower Base (CMPB) that the notice was forwarded to Tan’s father.

However, Isaac failed to register by the deadline. Two further reporting orders were sent to his father to request for the younger Tan to report for his NS registration. Both times, Isaac failed to do so.

It was only in September 2009 that lawyers acting for Isaac’s father wrote to CMPB to request for the younger Tan’s NS to be deferred until he was 21, as he had the intention to give up his Singapore citizenship.

However, CMPB replied to state that Isaac had to serve his NS first. They also said he should return to Singapore to resolve his NS offences as soon as possible in order not to prolong his default period.

It was only sometime in 2010 after Isaac turned 18 that he was told by his father that he was required to return to Singapore to serve NS. In May 2011, the senior Tan made another appeal to CMPB but it was rejected.

Isaac only returned to Singapore on 6 August 2015 – after a period of six years, four months and 21 days without a valid exit permit – and subsequently enlisted into NS on 29 October 2015.

On Friday, Tan’s lawyer Josephine Choo said in mitigation that Isaac only returned because he had a desire to serve his NS obligations. She also pointed out that he had never held a pink IC even though he was born in Singapore.

“He did not leave the country to evade NS. It was (due to) immigration (with the family),” Choo said. “Whether he was aware if he’s liable or not (to serve NS)… the issues were dealt with by the father, not him.”

The severity of the default was not as serious given that Isaac was not fit to be a combatant, Choo added. He had an existing skin condition since he was four and had sought treatment in Singapore before leaving for Canada.

While Tan was initially given a Physical Employment Standards (PES) B status for his physical condition, he was eventually downgraded to PES C while doing his basic military training. He was subsequently downgraded to PES E following a medical board review. A Singaporean man’s PES status determines his suitability for various NS roles depending on his health and physical conditions.

However, Deputy Public Prosecutor Tan Zhongshan questioned whether Isaac had the desire to return to Singapore to serve his NS, given the length of default. He also argued that there was no evidence to suggest that Isaac was not combat-fit when he was 18.

DPP Tan pointed out that all Singaporean males “have to give up on their interests” during the mandatory two-year period when they serve NS.

District Judge Marvin Bay adjourned the hearing to give both prosecution and the defence to work on further submissions. Isaac is expected to be sentenced on 11 October.