Phoon Chiu Yoke, who was seen without a mask at several locations, jailed after pleading guilty to multiple offences
SINGAPORE: A 54-year-old woman caught on camera not wearing a mask at Marina Bay Sands and other public places has been sentenced to 16 weeks in prison.
Phoon Chiu Yoke pleaded guilty on Monday (Sep 6) to nine charges of violating COVID-19 requirements.
Phoon first made headlines in May, after an online video of her arguing about not wearing a mask with a safe distancing ambassador at Marina Bay Sands went viral.
She faced an initial 22 charges, including one for not wearing a mask while outside the State Courts in May, where she was caught doing so on camera by members of the media.
Deputy Public Prosecutor Heershan Kaur said that the accused had left her hotel room without a mask at Marina Bay Sands on multiple occasions while still serving her stay-home notice after returning home from Britain in June last year.
The court also heard that Phoon - who appeared in court via video-link while in remand - had visited eateries and attended church services at St Andrew’s Cathedral while maskless, among other instances of being in violation of COVID-19 regulations.
The remaining 13 charges were taken into consideration.
The prosecution sought a sentence of between 17 and 22 weeks imprisonment, describing Phoon as a “serial repeat offender” with an “unprecedented degree of offending”, committing 13 COVID-19 offences spanning over more than a year.
Phoon's first charge related to an incident on May 8 last year, when she had gone maskless to Newton Food Centre during Singapore's "circuit breaker" period.
Ignoring safe distancing ambassadors, Phoon used a neck scarf to cover her nose. She was later approached by a National Environment Agency (NEA) enforcement officer, who had noticed the scarf was not covering her nostrils.
Phoon pulled down the scarf when she spotted the NEA officer. She told the officer that she did not know what COVID-19 was after being advised to cover her nose and mouth properly.
The accused was issued a S$300 fine for the offence, which she has still not paid despite having a notice and reminder letter mailed to her address.
Phoon had also gone to St Andrew's Cathedral without a mask to attend services on two dates in January and March this year, ignoring advice from an estate manager, service coordinator and the church's vicar to comply with COVID-19 regulations.
The prosecution also recounted the incident at The Shoppes at Marina Bay Sands on May 15, noting Phoon had briefly put on a mask so as to enter a Din Tai Fung outlet for lunch.
She left the restaurant after being reminded by safe distancing ambassadors to wear a mask, and proceeded to a Toast Box outlet.
While queueing outside the eatery, Phoon was again asked by safe distancing ambassadors to wear a mask, to which she responded: "You have no badge, who are you representing?”
A video of the incident, which was recorded by a safe distancing ambassador, went viral. Another video, of Phoon removing her mask and smiling at members of the media following a court date on May 24, also went viral online.
Deputy Public Prosecutor Jane Lim noted the two viral incidents represented her eighth and 12th breaches of COVID-19 regulations respectively.
She said that Phoon had left her hotel room on multiple occasions “for no good reason” while serving her stay-home notice, giving reasons such as wanting to view the night scenery or use the pool.
On one occasion, after leaving her hotel room without a mask, Phoon rejected a face mask that was offered by a hotel staff member.
Ms Lim noted Phoon had racked up five breaches of her stay-home notice, exposing members of the public to the risk of contracting COVID-19 and showing “wanton disregard” for the authority of Immigration and Checkpoints Authority officers as well as Marina Bay Sands hotel staff, who had reminded her to adhere to the stay-home notice.
There was also an “escalation in the degree of defiance”, Ms Lim said, noting Phoon had gone against COVID-19 safe management measures even after expressly being told she had to comply with such requirements while out on bail.
PHOON'S ACTS "NOT MALICIOUS": DEFENCE
Phoon’s lawyer, Amos Cai of Yuen Law, asked for his client to be given a fine.
Describing his client as a 54-year-old retiree, Mr Cai said Phoon’s acts were "not malicious", adding that she was unaware of the severity of her offences and that she "did not intend to cause a scene".
The defence added that Ms Phoon had never contracted COVID-19, nor were the locations she visited declared clusters, proving there was no transmission of the coronavirus through her acts.
Through her 12 years of service in the Republic of Singapore Navy as one of the pioneer female naval commanding officers, Phoon had championed gender equality in the military, he said.
Mr Cai also said that his client had suffered several injuries throughout her life that continue to cause her pain and inconvenience, including spinal injuries. These spinal injuries cause her “considerable discomfort” when she lies on hard surfaces, he added.
Phoon’s guilty plea was indication of her “genuine remorse”, the defence lawyer said.
While the prosecution accepted her guilty plea as a mitigating factor, it added that this had to be taken in context. Regarding Phoon’s purported injuries, Ms Lim contended that her conditions were undocumented and without proof.
Phoon has been in remand since Jul 24, a month after she was caught not wearing a mask at Mandarin Orchard on Jun 25, while she was on bail.
She was charged a month later and remanded when her S$12,000 bail was revoked.
Previous hearings saw Phoon urge the prosecution to drop charges against her over procedural errors, claiming that she was an “ex-naval officer of professional standing”.
In May, she was remanded at the Institute of Mental Health for two weeks for a psychiatric assessment, though details of her report were not given in open court.
Her sentence will be backdated to take into account her time in remand.
For each charge of contravening a COVID-19 control order, Phoon could have been jailed for up to six months, fined up to S$10,000, or both.