Blogger says he was seeking clarification over N95 masks

Mr Ravi Philemon (left), editor of socio-political website The Online Citizen (TOC).

SINGAPORE - Blogger Ravi Philemon on Thursday again defended his decision to post an unverified allegation that none of the Government's nine million N95 masks was for the public during the haze.

He said he had made the posting to clarify things as the Government's assurances about the masks "did not tally with the situation on the ground".

The statement released on Thursday, marking his second bid to defend himself, came after Minister of Communications and Information Yaacob Ibrahim on Wednesday said the blogger had "no basis for his assertion".

Dr Yaacob, in a Facebook post, pointed out that Mr Philemon had posted the allegation about the masks being kept out of the public's reach after the Government had announced it would be giving out one million N95 masks free to lower-income households.

On Thursday, too, the originator of the allegation identified himself, explaining how he came to hear the claim.

He identified himself in a public Facebook post as Victor Chen Guan Rong. He gave no further details about himself but said he received the information from his father, who in turn got it from phone calls he made to pharmacies, medical suppliers and clinics on June 21.

His posting, the one that Mr Philemon reposted on his wall, said: "Yes the nine million masks are coming into Singapore only on Monday. But none will be for the public, the entire batch will be under exclusive control by the G (Government) and all distributions (sic) of the masks will be under the tightest of scrutiny".

Mr Chen wrote that all medical supplies distributors made similar remarks and that no retailer would have stock circulating because of "tight control implemented".

In explaining himself on Thursday, Mr Philemon said that two days before his post, the media had reported that the Health Ministry said there were enough masks and pharmacies would have fresh stock by that evening.

The next day, on June 21, there were reports that some pharmacies did not have stock of the masks. Mr Philemon did not mention that other pharmacies had stock and had queues of people buying them.

The Government made the announcement about masks to be given away free on June 21.

Mr Philemon made the posting about the masks being kept away from the public in the wee hours of June 22.

In the afternoon of the same day, it was reported that free masks were being sent to grassroots groups for distribution to poor families.

Mr Philemon said he posted the allegation "with the intention of not asserting, but getting more information on that topic".

"As ordinary citizens like me are not in a position to verify what is truth and what is not, it is not irresponsible of me to highlight such sentiments so that the Government can appropriately clarify them," he said.

The issue of Mr Philemon's posting was first raised in Parliament on Monday, when Dr Yaacob cited it as an example of online rumour-mongering that caused unnecessary public anxiety during the haze.