Tuesday, 26 January 2016

Francis Seow: A brilliant lawyer but the leader that never was

On 21 Jan 2016 we say our last goodbye to a political icon of the 60s to 80s, Francis Seow. Once regarded as the most brilliant lawyer for the Singapore government and later a formidable political opposition, what really fulled his actions? Was it his unflinching passion for democracy and freedom? Was he driven to desperation by the Singapore government? Or something else? 

When Francis Seow was working for the Government for over 10 years as senior counsel and later as Solicitor-General, and enjoyed all the prestige and privileges that came with his office, he had no complaints against the Government and was in fact very supportive of its various actions, including those against the communists and their supporters. 

Seow played a crucial role in exposing the communists in Singapore and contributed to the defeat of communist united front leader Lim Chin Siong and his pro-communist Barisan Sosialis at the September 1962 Referendum on merger with Malaysia. 

Seow was a senior counsel during the Commission of Inquiry into the 1961 Secondary IV examination boycott by Chinese students orchestrated by the communists. During the COI in 1962, Seow presented strong convincing evidence that Lim Chin Siong was a communist and headed an underground communist cell. Seow was awarded the Public Administration (Gold) Medal for his contributions and rose to become the Solicitor-General in 1969. 

However, after he left the Legal Service to go into private practice in 1972, he turned sour and changed his attitude towards the Government to the extent that by the mid-1980s he openly attacked the government he had served avidly for a decade. Investigations revealed that Seow, fulled by his desire for political power, had colluded with American officials to lead a group of professionals including lawyers into opposition politics. 

He had apparently cultivated the Americans to support his political plans and to provide him with asylum should it become necessary. The Americans supported him and gave the impression that asylum would be forthcoming when needed. By doing so, Seow became beholden to the Americans. He had made himself a willing party to interference in Singapore's domestic affairs by foreign officials. 

Seow was detained briefly under the ISA and following his release, he contested in the 1988 GE as a WP member for Eunos GRC, losing only narrowly by 1279 votes. During his trial for income tax evasion after the elections, Seow duly sought and was granted asylum in the US. In his sworn affidavit, Seow admitted that he had been to Washington before the elections to meet high-level State Department officials where they assured him of refuge status should he run into trouble with the Singapore government. 

Seow's close friend and fellow activist in Law Society, Subhas Anandan, who supported Seow of the President of Law Society, found out too late about Seow's duplicitous character and questionable character. Subhas wrote in his book: 

“ (Seow) were fulled by deep-seated motives or what one would consider personal desires. Whatever his motives may have been, the way he conducted himself as president and the speeches he made had lawyers walking with their heads held up high. We had the feeling that we would not be trampled upon. We had a leader who would stand by us. Little did we know that the same leader would someday pack up his things and slink away from Singapore leaving behind a lot of disillusioned people who believed in him. There were also those who gave him money. He still owes me $25,000..." 

“(Seow) was a disappointment and a disaster. He didn’t have the moral courage to return to Singapore to face income tax charges even if he was convicted of those charges, it would have only amounted to a fine but he was not prepared to take the risk. In the final analysis, he was after all, nothing. A man who spoke well – his eloquence was often very charming – but other than that he did not have what it took to be a leader.”

Wednesday, 23 December 2015

More Misleading Claims from Thum Ping Tjin

Thum Ping Tjin has recently made a startling assertion that after his works were published, the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) “no longer say that they have evidence that the detainees of Operation Coldstore were involved in a communist conspiracy”. He claims this is a “major shift in position” and proves that MHA “also accept my sources are accurate and legitimate”.

The Government has quite understandably ignored Thum’s erroneous claims probably because it believes the public is discerning enough not to be misled by his singular desire to spin his own version of history. Still, it is important to set the record straight in case such unsubstantiated claims gain acceptance by default because no one rebutted them.

A quick recount of some of the evidence and facts would be in order to debunk Thum’s absurd claims. The Government has stated, as recently as 14 Dec 2014, that “[a] full reading of the declassified documents from the British National Archives shows clearly that Operation Coldstore was a security operation meant to counter the serious security threat posed by the outlawed Communist Party of Malaya (CPM) and their supporters in Singapore, working through the Barisan and associated communist united front (CUF) organisations”. The Government stated that revisionists like Thum “conveniently omit mention of the incriminating information in these documents” by quoting documents “selectively”. British officials as well as CPM leaders have acknowledged that the Barisan was “the prime CUF body in Singapore in the 1960s, influenced, directed and led by CPM cadres”.

In this and another reply dated 20 Jan this year, the Government revealed among other things, the CPM strategy to capture political power in Singapore and use Singapore as a base to establish communist rule in the whole of Malaya, the formation of Barisan on the explicit instructions of the CPM, the CPM control of trade unions and other mass organisations, the communist antecedents of Barisan leaders, the discussions about armed struggle by Barisan cadres, Barisan’s support for the Brunei revolt in Dec 1962, and CPM’s decision in Beijing to prevent the formation of Malaysia and instructions to its proxies in Singapore.

In addition to the Government’s replies, I would add a Cold War dimension to the CPM’s strategy and highlight the Communists’ grand design in Southeast Asia. Chin Peng, the CPM’s Secretary-General, wrote in his memoirs that in July 1961, he and two other CPM leaders met Chinese Communist Party (CCP) leader Deng Xiaoping who informed them that Southeast Asia “was about to undergo monumental changes”. Deng said that “Strategically, the whole region … would become ripe for the sort of struggle we had been pursuing in Malaya for so long. The CPM must not…switch policies at this point. We must take advantage of the opportunities that would soon be presenting themselves throughout South East Asia”. Basically, Deng persuaded Chin Peng to persist with their armed struggle as this was going to happen in a big way in the region. Chin Peng further revealed that the CCP provided the CPM with financial support, training, a headquarters in Beijing and other amenities.

Clearly, the overall communist plan in the early 1960s was to turn Southeast Asia red, starting with Indochina in the north and Sukarno’s Indonesia in the south. As communist forces mounted attacks in Indochina, Sukarno, launched ‘konfrontasi’ against Malaysia on 20 Jan 1963 (two weeks before Operation Coldstore), starting with harassment of fishing boats and escalating to armed incursions and bombings by mid-1963. A month before ‘konfrontasi’ was launched, Brunei rebels staged a revolt. The Indonesian communist party (PKI) called for full support for the rebellion and urged the Government to make it a success. Sukarno and the Indonesian Parliament declared its support and so too did the Barisan and Partai Rakyat (PR) in Singapore. The Barisan and PR held rallies and discuss plans to whip up support for the rebellion and recruit volunteers from Singapore to fight alongside the Brunei rebels. The communists and their proxies in Singapore hoped that these external forces would prevent the formation of Malaysia. Before they could do more trouble, Operation Coldstore was launched and they were arrested and the threat averted. Chin Peng admitted that Operation Coldstore “shattered our underground network throughout the island”.

This geopolitical backdrop showing communist violence and plans during the period in the region augment earlier government replies about the CPM conspiracy and Operation Coldstore. Thum’s disregard of the overwhelming evidence that justified Operation Coldstore confirm that he is not interested in historical truths but politics. He has declared that “it is the responsibility of academics to critique power, those in power, and how power is used”. In attempting to do so, Thum has put forth a version of history that is seriously flawed and statements that are erroneous.

Monday, 4 May 2015

Another Misleading Account by Thum Ping Tjin

After being thoroughly exposed for his one-sided and erroneous account of Operation Coldstore (1963), Thum and his close supporter Loh - others seem to have withdrawn support after realizing the lack of academic rigour in Thum's works - have now moved into the 1950s to look for safer areas to push their revisionist line.  In their latest article, Thum and Loh again take the position that there was no communist threat, no communist subversion and no communist united front.  In other words, the British, Labour Front Chief Ministers David Marshall and Lim Yew Hock (1955-1959), Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew, Cabinet ministers, hundreds of government officials and diplomats and the many local and foreign scholars who have written extensively on the communist threat since the 1950s have all got it wrong? There was no communist threat? 

Unfortunately for Thum and Loh, the CPM leaders themselves have let the cat out of the bag.  CPM Secretary General Chin Peng himself had stated in his memoirs (2003) that the CPM controlled the left-wing trade union movement in the 1950s.  Fong Chong Pik aka the Plen, who was in charge of CPM operations in Singapore, had revealed in his memoirs (2008) about the conspiracies hatched by the CPM secret working committee in Jakarta, and his dealings with top trade union and political leaders and activists in Singapore in the 1950s and 1960s.  CPM members in Hong Kong and China have revealed in their 2013 book that they were behind the unrest in the 1950s, including the Hock Lee Bus riots.  No wonder Thum and Loh ignore these more recent works in their article as they completely demolish their claims that there was no communist threat or conspiracies in Singapore. 

Both writers blame the management and the police for the Hock Lee Bus riots that broke out in 1955 and exonerated the communists and their open front leader Lim Chin Siong and his close confidante Fong Swee Suan.  As in Thum's flawed account of Operation Coldstore, this version of the Hock Lee Bus riots is equally defective, with significant omissions and simplistic one-sided narrative.  

They conveniently fail to mention that Chief Minister David Marshall had denounced the strikers and rioters in his radio broadcast on the day of the riots (12 May 1955), saying that the pattern of developments today closely conforms to the Communist technique in seeking to foment industrial unrest on any excuse and to obstruct peaceful solutions - a strong indictment of the communists and their united front leaders by Marshall which was published in The Straits Times the next day and which Thum and Loh conveniently ignore.

In the Legislative Assembly debate that ensued, Marshall demanded that Lim Chin Siong declare publicly whether he spoke in the Chamber as a "communist and a fellow sympathiser of the Communists". Chief Secretary William Goode also accused both Lim Chin Siong and Fong Swee Suan of instigating the use of violence. The CPM itself, through its propaganda organ, Freedom News, celebrated the victorious ending of the Hock Lee incident and declared that "[an] economic struggle has been precipitated into becoming a political struggle".

It did not fail to draw a link between the "expansion of the workers" movement and the expansion of the national liberation war? it was waging.  There are many other quotes that can be cited to thoroughly demolish the claims in their joint article.  There is no question about the communist threat or communist involvement in the strike and riots that followed.

The only reason Thum and Loh persist in their misrepresentation of historical facts is probably because this approach fits well with their political agenda to undermine public confidence and trust in the present Government which had continued the anti-communist policy of the Labour Front Government (1955-1959) after it took over power in 1959.

If history is to move us forward, it has to be depoliticised from the meandering antics of revisionist historians, such as Thum and Loh, who seek to weave their current political aspirations into their historical analysis. Similarly, pro-establishment historians have to resist against pressure that call for no change, for the study of Singapore's history to remain at status quo. There hasn't been enough in-depth study of Singapore's history from 1950s to 1970s and what I see currently isn't doing us any good.  

Monday, 19 January 2015

The unfathomable Lysa Hong

This is yet another unfathomable response from a known 'revisionist' historian. It is quite an unusual response from an academic who is supposed to be objective, detached and impartial. The name calling and emotional outbursts aside, she has at least conceded that Lim Chin Siong did work with the Communists after refusing to admit even this for a long time. 

She is also quite mistaken in a number of areas.She claimed that all the communists cadres (over 50) had been withdrawn before Op Coldstor. She is plainly wrong. 

First, any historian who has read Lee Ting Hui and Chin Peng's memoirs would know that there were more than 50 communist cadres in Singapore. Second, while some were withdrawn, many were left in place as affirmed by Chin Peng. Some were not even arrested during Op Coldstore eg Chan Sun Wing and Wong Soon Fong who were Barisan Assemblymen during Op Coldstore; both later absconded and appeared at the CPM jungle camp at the Thai-Malaysia border. It is quite puzzling how Hong allowed herself to be blinded by her prejudices.

Hong parroted Moore's statement that there was no instruction from CPM, Beijing or Moscow to Lim Chin Siong, and that Lim acted independently. But she contradicts hereself later when she concedes that it can be assumed that Lim was working "surreptitiously" with the communists. The CPM historiography is full of examples of instructions from Beijing and even Moscow to its operatives in Singapore and Malaya, starting from its formation in 1930. 

This is evident from CPM's various policy statements, directives and actions. Chin Peng had even revealed frankly that nothing could move without China's consent! Chin Peng, Eu Chooi Yip and the Plen all conspired to oppose merger and this was communicated down the line. The formation of Barisan itself was also at the CPM's behest! 

Picture from Chin Peng: My side of history

Furthermore, Singapore's former president and erstwhile communist, Devan Nair, said in his oral interview that he was introduced to Lim through Samad Ismail, a known CPM member since 1949, as someone who was "getting his guidance from South Johor". "Nair, who used to spend his evenings and nights at Lim's Middle Road union headquarters, remembered occasions when "somebody from the underground who is not know to the police" arriving to pass Lim a note. "And Chin Siong would read it and straight away burn it.""

Love him or hate him, when Lee Kuan Yew challenged Lim Chin Siong to take him to court for libel and forgery in 1962, after Lee accused Lim of being a Malayan communist, Lim choose not to. Why not? No one knows for sure. But it made his case weaker in the ensuing months when Lim was arrested under Op Coldstore for being a communist threat.  

Hong appears to have thrown caution to the winds, and along with it her academic independence and objectivity. She continues to ignore, dismiss or suppress hard evidence so as to be able to insist that Op Coldstore had no security basis whatsoever. Why she continues to do so is unfathomable.   

Wednesday, 7 January 2015

Former detainee: I bought medicine from Dr Poh for CPM

September 7, 1976

by A Ramalingam and Philip Lee

An ex-political detainee, Wang Kui Inn, 27, yesterday described how she bought Western medicine from Dr. Poh Soo Kai and took it to the Betong-Raub area for the Sixth Assault Unit of the Communist Party of Malaya (CPM).

Wang, wife of another ex-detainee, Pang Hee Fatt, went to Dr. Poh'c clinic in Balastier Road on three occasions between January 1974 and early this year to buy medicine, Dr Poh only accepted money for the medicine after she pressed it on him.

Dr. Poh was re-arrested on June 4 this year. This was the second arrest under the Internal Security Act. He was first arrested in February 1963 and released in December 1973.

Wang said that in January and February 1974, a woman by the name of Siong Pek gave her a list of Chinese and Western medicine and $300 in cash.

Siong Pek told her that the medicine was for the Malayan National Liberation Army (MNLA).

"As Siong Pek was my good friend and as this was also to serve the MNLA, I went to the Rakyat Clinic at Balastier Road about two days later and asked Dr. Poh to help in purchasing the medicine," she said.

"When Dr. Poh asked me why I wanted these medicine, I told Dr. Poh that the medicine was wanted by my "Malaysian friends." Dr. Poh asked me to go back the following day."

When she turned up at the Rakyat Clinic the next day, Dr. Poh gave her three types of medicine - three bottles of pills for gastric pain (300 tablets), Vitamin B12 compound for injection (eight to 10 phials) and a bottle of antipyretic pills (300 tablets).

Wang said that Dr. Poh told her how to use the medicines and she noted it down in Chinese.

Later in the year she went to Bentong-Raub to meet Ah Lee, the leader of the Sixth Assault Unit of the CPM. Ah Lee gave her more tasks and one of these was to buy more medicine.

In May or June 1975, Wang again went to Dr. Poh's clinic in Balastier Road.

"This time, Dr. Poh did not ask me why I wanted the medicine. Like previously, I was told to come back the following day," Wang said.

This time she got four types of medicine - 10 phials of penicillin (which was not available on the market), a bottle of pills for gastric pain, a bottle of pills for rheumatism and five phials of B12 compound.

Again Dr. Poh taught Wang how to use the medicine and again no bill was given.

Early this year, Wang again went to the Rakyat Clinic and this time she got from Dr. Poh a bottle of vitamin pills and a bottle of pills for gastric pain.

When she asked Dr. Poh how much all the medicine that she had so far obtained cost, Dr. Poh replied that payment did not matter and that he did not want her to pay.

Wang said she insisted and finally, Dr. Poh accepted $150 from her.

Apart from seeking Dr. Poh's help to buy medcine, her husband and she had also been to the Medical Hall and the Ping Min Medical Hall to buy medicine on three occasions.

All the labels on the packages were removed and the medicine was packed in a travelling bag before being despatched to Siong Pek.

Out of the $300 given to her by Siong Pek, $150 was paid to Dr. Poh. The remaining $150 was used by her husband and her to buy Chinese medicine.

"We had actually spent more than that on the Chinese medicine."

Wang's husband, Pang confirmed in his statement what his wife said.

He said: "Some time in late 1974, Wang Kui Inn told me she had in the company of her friends in the Malayan New Democratic Youth League (MNDYL), visited the leader of the Assault Unit in the jungles of Pahang.

"It was in December 1974 that Wang Kui Inn related to me that she had obtained the medicine from Dr. Poh at Rakyat Clinic.

"Some time in mid 1975, she told me that before she obtained the medicine from Dr. Poh, she had told him that the CPM liberation army needed medicine and had asked him if he could help in the purchase and that Dr. Poh had promised to help.

"This medicine was sent to the Liberation Army through her friends in the MNDYL."

Pang also said that in early 1975, his wife told about her visit to Dr. Poh's home near the Chinese Swimming Club in Amber Road to obtain medicine, which again was later sent to the Liberation Army through friends in the MNDYL.

In May or June last year and again early this year, she again visited Dr Poh's home.  

He said when he was sent by Wang to buy some medicine he was given $60.

Source: http://eresources.nlb.gov.sg/newspapers/Digitised/Page/straitstimes19760907-1.1.10.aspx

Monday, 5 January 2015

The 1974 Katong Bomb

It was just 6 am on Friday, 20 December 1974, when residents of Katong woke up to a mighty explosion. A bomb carried by the front seat passenger on his lap prematurely exploded as the car travelling down Still Road was just about to reach the junction with East Coast Road. It instantly killed the passenger, a Malaysian and ripped him open. The blast threw out the driver, a driver on to the road and he was eventually to die in hospital despite surgery. The driver an old boy of Chung Cheng High School was then an active member of Barisan Socialis. A third man seat in the back seat limped away and escaped. 3 other bombs were also discovered amidst the wreckage. Also found were flyers of Communist Party of Malaysia satellite organisations Malaysian National Liberation Front and the Malaysan Communist Youth League.

The trio were on their way not to light up the Christmas Tree at Katong Holy Church but to bomb the owner of Nanyang Shoe Factory located in JB at his residence in East Coast. The owner and his workers were in the midst of an industrial strife. 

On Sunday, 22nd December at the stroke of midnight, Dr Poh Soo Kai and his wife Grace left their home in their Toyota Corolla and headed North. A friend called G Raman, a lawyer in private practice and fellow traveler followed them in his car, a Volvo. They crossed the Causeway and headed for a Jetty in Masai near Pasir Gudang. The waited a while in the dead of the night, a boat with 2 males crossed over from Singapore. One of them was 3rd man from the car and he was injured. They were driven quite a distance to an isolated wooden house where the injured man was treated. 

The lawyer took leave as he was due in Court in a few hours time to defend one client who was being tried in court for rioting with two other defendants. He was originally asked to defend two of them but the main defendant by the name of Tan Wah Piow chose to conduct his defence. 

Within a year, the lawyer went on to hire a young female lawyer called Teo Soh Lung for his practice. 

Since Singapore's history began, there were 3 main incidents involving detention without trail. First was Operation Coldstore in 1963, the Euro Communists arrests in 1977 and Operations Spectrum - the Marxist Conspiracy in 1987. Dr Poh was one of the stars of the first incident in 63, G Raman was main protagonist in the second in 77 and Teo Soh Lung in the third in 87. Note the link involving 3 individuals over a span of 25 years.

Take Dr Poh Soo Kai for example. He was born with a silver spoon, a member of OCBC's Lee Kong Chian clan, did not have to work a day and could have lived a life of luxury. His first loves was English literature and poetry. When he began his medical studies at University of Singapore, he leaned towards the common man felt strongly about looking after the downtrodden and the exploited. He became a member of the Univeristy Socialist Club and became editor of Fajar. The British arrested the lot and charged them in court for sedition. A young Singapore Lawyer from Cambridge arranged for their defence and they were acquitted. Poh Soo Kai was in someone's basement in Oxley putting together flyer for the Owner's electoral debut. 

These are men of conviction, resolve and not out to make money. They wanted to save those who could not help themselves. They preferred a classless society. The was only one issue. The means to the end was not limited.


Source: http://www.sammyboy.com/showthread.php?102046-Katong-Bomb-1974-Know-You-History 

The body of the dead saboteur being examined by the late pathologist Professor Chao Tzee Cheng.

Monday, 22 December 2014

PJ Thum repeats old claims as historical truth remains elusive

Thum Pingtjin responded to Burhan Gafoor's letter with a FB posting that he is “happy that the government is engaging with my work”; he claims that his article on Coldstore “which was peer-reviewed and has extensive citations, does address the issues and evidence that Burhan raises”.

Thum's article does nothing of the sort. It fails to include several important revelations by Chin Peng, Fong Chong Pik aka The Plan, Eu Chooi Yip and other CPM/ABL leaders and activists that demolishes his arguments. Eu's revelations that the Barisan was formed on the instruction of The Plen completely undermines his whole thesis that the Barisan was just an ordinary left-wing political party instead of being the principal communist united front organisation (CUF) in Singapore that it was. His allegation that the CUF was an “invention” by the authorities has now been proven to be false.

Click here to read earlier article on what Chin Peng and The Plen say in their own memoirs. 

In another article which also touched on Coldstore and merger, Thum declares that his work quoted extensively the Chinese press – did he know that The Plen has written in his book that many of the articles in the Chinese press originated from him?

Many of these revelations have been in the public domain for the last 15 years. His entire unsubstantiated case against the government over Coldstore collapses now that it has been proven that the Barisan was indeed a political front of the CPM and that the communists were actively driving Barisan's disruptive activities and that the communists conspiracy was real and not imagined as alleged. Will Thum now revise his article?

Thum's response to Burhan was a repetition of his old line that his article was “peer reviewed” as though that in itself authenticates his work as a truthful account and addresses all concerns about inaccuracies and misrepresentations. Since he relies heavily on peer reviews, and give the many misleading arguments in his article, readers are entitled to know who are these peers who reviewed his work and how were they chosen? What are their areas of specialisation and research interests? How familiar are they with Communism in Southeast Asia, in particular Malaya and Singapore? How familiar are they with Singapore history? Have they conducted research on Singapore history and politics?

Further, would Thum address all the evidence and arguments highlighted in Burhan's reply in his forthcoming works on Coldstore or is it going to be an expanded version of his flawed articles? In particular, would he include all the revelations by Chin Peng, The Plen, Eu Chooi Yip and former CPM/ABL members that contradict his thesis? Would he also include the revelations and exhaustive research conducted by authors like C C Chin, Cheah Boon Kheng, Lee Ting Hui, Drysdale and Bloodworth and other British colonial records that argue against his own arguments?

Like Thum, I too hope that the state would declassify more documents. But when academics do not use materials that are publicly available and shoddily analyse those that they have access to, then I wonder when that day will come.