A certain issue always seems to resurface every time when we have a state funeral in Singapore. It happened when Wee Kim Wee passed away, when S Rajaratnam, Goh Keng Swee and Lee Kuan Yew passed away, and it has happened again when S R Nathan passed away on Monday.
That issue, of course, concerns former President Ong Teng Cheong, who had a state-assisted funeral instead of a state funeral. Why the double standards, people ask. It didn’t help that the government’s reply on the issue was fudgy (You can read more about the government’s reply here.) Some sources said that his family didn’t want a state funeral, while other sources said that it wasn’t offered in the first place due to certain political reasons.
Don’t get me wrong. I love Ong Teng Cheong, and shed a few tears when he passed away.
I remember how he:
- Fought for the MRT project, despite opposition from others in parliament.
- Sanctioned a strike in 1986 when he was labour chief, but did not inform cabinet beforehand in fear that they would block it.
- As President, pressed the government for details of Singapore’s reserves, which the PAP government said would take 56 man years to produce.
He famously said the following in 1993, and stuck to it:
“Some people still ask whether my long previous association with the PAP will stop me from acting independently. The answer is no. My loyalty is first and foremost, to the people of Singapore. It has always been so, and will always remain so.”
Ong Teng Cheong is, and will always be, my favourite President.
But at the same time, I love S R Nathan too. I think that’s the case for many other Singaporeans as well. Our love and respect for Ong Teng Cheong and S R Nathan are not mutually exclusive.
But I think right now, we should focus on S R Nathan. Respect the man, celebrate his life. Leave the politicking over Ong Teng Cheong till later. Don’t let S R Nathan’s memory be marred or overshadowed by something that he had no control over.
To put it more bluntly, we’ve got all the time in the world to debate this till the next state funeral (which hopefully won’t come too soon). Why do it now?
As a civil servant for most parts of his life, S R Nathan stayed out of the limelight. Many of his contributions when he was Director SID (Singapore’s equivalent of the CIA) and Permanent Secretary of Foreign Affairs are probably classified due to the sensitive nature of his work. So I’m not surprised when some people asked what did S R Nathan do to deserve the honour of a state funeral, as compared to Ong Teng Cheong.
But look. What S R Nathan did during the Laju incident alone more than justified the state funeral, even if we disregard his many other contributions (you can read all about his contributions to Singapore here).
This is a man who staked his own life for Singapore, even when he didn’t need to. I don’t think this is something most keyboard warriors can do. Certainly not me. And probably not the case for some of the current batch of PAP parliamentarians.
Let’s give this man the respect he deserves.
And to those who have been milking Ong Teng Cheong’s case for the sake of stirring, shame on you.
Rest in peace, sirs. Thank you for dedicating your lives to this country.
That is all.