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The sad case of Rebecca Loh

The tragic life of Rebecca Loh and death of her son Gabriel has moved me more than any story to come out of Singapore in recent years. Who cannot be horrified by the thought of that poor boy’s last moments without also recognising that his mother must have been struggling with mental and physical trauma  beyond our normal capacity to comprehend. I have thought long and hard before deciding to write on the matter. Firstly I don’t know the family or enough of the details  to write in any qualified manner, secondly it seems almost callous to reduce the family to a set of circumstances and finally Gabriel’s grandmother now has to bear not only his passing but the trauma of the trial. I  extend my deepest condolences to the family.

Nevertheless I was encouraged by Rachel Zeng’s sensitive handling of the case in her blog and so on the basis that we  do less harm by talking about this with compassion than by sweeping it under the carpet, I have decided to  write a few words.  Read Rachel’s thoughts here.

When I first started this blog over two years ago I wrote an intro which you can find under the ABOUT button on the menu. This explained my choice of the name “Rethinking the Rice Bowl”. Looking back on it today it seems like a load of guff. The intro talks about iron rice bowls and porcelain rice bowls in an attempt to demonstrate how the PAP government model is faux communist but with a harsh, ” spur in the side” element.  Please do spend a couple of minutes reading that Intro if you can.

As you read further down the page you will find the following. Remember I wrote this in February 2011 two and a half years before Gabriel died. If it sounds prophetic it is not. I was only stating the  facts of life under the PAP then and they have not changed. Here is what I said

“Sometimes the rice bowl slips from our fingers and cracks or breaks through sheer ill luck. There will be precious little sympathy for you in a porcelain rice bowl State should you be foolish enough to be retrenched, to have elderly parents, a chronic or terminal illness, a child with special needs or to be caring for a mentally or physically challenged dependant.”

I regret not having added single parent to that list back then. Rebecca’s rice bowl did slip from her fingers and Gabriel died. But Rebecca didn’t exactly slip through the net , she was not invisible. The media reports said,

“.an unemployed single mother, she was often seen pushing Gabriel around in a pram.

She would lift him from the pram to the chair and back at a nearby coffee shop, neighbours told The Straits Times.”

Rebecca was known in her neighbourhood, Gabriel was known, they were not recluses behind hidden doors.  The Police were even called out several times due to violent arguments at the home.

It seems that Rebecca would have qualified for Public Assistance and the PA grassroots organisations in West Coast GRC have not come forth with any information as to whether she received assistance or not. We do know she was totally reliant financially on her mother, Gabriel’s grandmother who worked full time to bring home $1000 a month. Caught by Catch 22 this took Rebecca’s sole contact, her mother, away from the home all day. Her future must have seemed interminably bleak.

I am reminded of the work of Raymond Fernando who often writes about the stress of taking care of  a dependent relative full time.  You can read a piece he wrote on this blog called, ” Who Cares for the  Care-Giver”, here.

Life sometimes deals you a series of circumstances which you cannot overcome by hard work alone. That is why i wrote that back in 2011. With the hindsight of this case surely there are few amongst us who can defend the PAP’s harsh an regime.

Here comes the economics- Make no mistake, I am not advocating a Welfare State. Particularly as those Nations with bloated welfare systems are desperately trying to cut them back as we speak. The last thing I want is for Singapore to regress to some 1950’s Socialist model with an iron rice bowl mentality. What we need are safety nets and a tiny fraction of the assistance that citizens in developed Nations enjoy- ( not to mention the freedoms).  We don’t even have free education! Look how many millions have to be raised by charities every year to allow children of needy families to go to school with breakfast or to buy pencils and text books or lunch.

Anyone who reads my blog or follows my work will be familiar with the list, Minimum Wage, freeholds to our property, HDB reform, pension reform, CPF reform, NS at slave labour rates reform,  joined up health care , free education and so on. What has also always been clear is that there simply is not enough provision by our state for children with special needs. For every child who is lucky enough to get a place at the one flagship school for autism- a centre of excellence in fact_ there are 5 more children shut away and denied an education or a place in our society at all. Any support for these young people is derived solely from charities and religious organisations. That is better than nothing but every charity supporting a family is letting the PAP off the hook.

Naturally the PAP demonstrates no remorse. Here is what they said in response to an article  critical of our  government’s failure to provide safety nets which appeared in the Economist back in 2010. (anyone who has read the Economist or  its sister publication, the Financial Times, recently such as Gillian Tett’s puff piece on our health care system based on her experience of being treated  as a private, fee-paying Ex Pat will hardly recognise the Economist of 2010)

Reply to the Economist’s  “The stingy nanny” of Feb 13th.
“Each society has to decide for itself the appropriate balance between unconditional welfare and self-reliance. Singapore has concluded that we cannot afford European-style state welfare, not because of dogma, but because our circumstances are different. We face competition from some of the most vibrant economies in the world, we have no hinterland or natural resources of our own to fall back on, and our future depends on being a dynamic and self-reliant people who strive our utmost to excel and create wealth for ourselves, our families and our society. Each generation must earn and save enough for its entire life cycle.

Our approach is based on time-tested values of hard work, self-reliance, family responsibility and community support for those in need.”

What was Rebecca supposed to do?  Her Community dd not support her evidently. There was no way this young woman could ever have saved up enough  for her and her son’s life cycle. Notice in all this story there has been no mention of the absent father. How was Rebecca supposed to create wealth for herself, exactly? Did Gabriel die because Rebecca failed to be dynamic and self reliant enough for the PAP model?

While we are here that story about no natural resources is wearing thin. We inherited one of the busiest ports in the region which was  historically already prosperous under the British who left us the deepest dry dock in Asia and a large well educated middle class. We are at the centre of the world’s trade routes. Most of the world’s oil passes through the Malacca Straits via Singapore.  We don’t have any rural areas either and we should compare ourselves to Manhattan or central down town Tokyo or London.

This is the regime that likens Democracy to gang rape. Shameless. But do we bear any less shame for turning our heads away from Rebecca and for unquestioningly swallowing the PAP’s dogma. As my father liked to say, Wake up.



  1. Hi Kenneth

    Just a note to encourage you on the humanitarian and caring spirit. Keep up the good work and do remember to work along with other opposition. Best regards


  2. Dear Mr K. Jeyaretnam. Your blog is an intelligent one. But the sad part is how many Singaporean are intelligent enough to follow your logic and thoughts. Please refer to the netizens community of Singapore: they are a mob with lynching ropes. Singaporeans attack and attack with no feelings of compassion. Of course fortunately not all are without compassion. As I observe these mob mentality are easily controlled by PAP methods of governance. The poor neglected needy people are totally ignored. Those who are still fit step on the next person to make a living very similar to the German gas chambers. Your Dad is a great man but are Singaporeans ready for such great people? My support is for you sir. Hopefully Singaporeans would mature to become wonderful citizens far from the Madding Crowd!!! Alex


  3. I was born in Singapore but now live in a country up north in the world with a complete social welfare system – arguably the best – free education all the way to university! But guess what, we have trouble getting kids to school and the social fabric is consequently a mess – 60% divorce rates, unplanned pregnancies on big scale.

    The population here is also just 5 mil, not a big country by population.

    But when things are “free” or entitled under a social welfare system, it loses its “value”. No one really sees the value in higher education nor fear too much about being unemployed as there is always welfare to fall back on — and many people do. These are realities in the society here that people on the outside don’t know or talk about.

    We pay something like 45% taxes to make this welfare system work – ironically that creates greater air of apathy as people just think I’ve already “paid so much” for my neighbour’s education and healthcare why should I still take time or effort to care for them? So it will go back to same situation you raised on Rebecca’s situation: Apathy.

    Even though I don’t agree the G is to be blamed for this tragedy – as a welfare state will not be able to avoid it either, but what I hear and like about your article, is a call for community care and concern – which is harder to mobilise when you are in a welfare state like mine but I am absolutely hopeful for Singapore to move towards that. 🙂


  4. Excellent post, Ken! PAP needs to be sacked. The party has grown incompetent, out-of-touch and heartless. The biggest irony is that all PAP morons in cabinet draw the highest salaries in the world! Today’s Singapore has the highest income gap in the developed world, infrastructure busting at its seams, exorbitant cost of living, stressful lifestyles, crappy education system which churns out non-thinkers, diluted national identity and many very unhappy citizens. The first generation leaders must be turning in their graves to see Singapore degenerate to such a state!


    • Ang Chen Ying: Rebecca seems to have slipped through the fingers of the West Coast GRC PA Grassroots organisation and other official channels. I will be keeping an eye on the case not least because I am against the death penalty.

      But what we can all do is to try and look out in our community to identify the next potential Rebecca and Gabriel tragedy. I feel we shun these members of our community and they become isolated as a result. The next time we see someone lifting their disabled child into a chair at our local coffee shop we can help by simply dropping by for a chat and sharing our coffee so that we break that cycle of isolation.

      Read Raymond’s work to understand what care the carers need. MOST IMPORTANT. If you care for a dependent yourself make sure to see that you too get cared for so you have time to recharge your batteries. Reach out and ask for help or respite. After much campaigning Raymond has been able to get assistance for a part time maid.

      Join an anti-death penalty lobby.

      My son volunteers during school holidays with a charity called Project Dignity. It is a very worthwhile project training adults with learning disabilities to learn to cook so that they can be employed in hawker centres. At school he assists at an after school club once a week. It was part of our ethos that he do volunteer work starting from when he was 13 and originally he did it out of duty but now he is pro-active and gets as much out of helping as those he helps. We who are lucky enough to be employed and have our health can give a little back and bring our children up to do the same.

      Volunteer to go out with the outreach groups . Reform Party has one in West Coast GRC. They are distributing gas masks in that area currently and I personally witnessed many vulnerable families on my walkabouts in certain wards. I was shocked to discover the plight of amputees in or HDB blocks- often due to diabetes which due to the lack of funding for health care is a condition not caught in time, not managed and not understood. Amputees on floors in older blocks where the lifts don’t stop at every floor are virtually prisoners.

      Together we can only soften the edges of the PAP’s harsh dogma until such time as we can wrest back democratic representation and try to bring about legal and economic reform.

      If there are any groups or social workers or anyone with experience reading this who can offer practical ways in which we can help then please do join in. Contact me confidentially if you have concerns about anyone in our community.


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