Woman who lost in libel suit wants to fight on, doctor aims to find closure

Wan Ting Koh
·Reporter
·6-min read
Serene Tiong (left) and Dr Julian Ong Kian Peng.
PHOTOS (L to R): Serene Tiong (Wan Ting Koh/Yahoo News Singapore) and Dr Julian Ong (Screenshot off Dr Julian Ong Endoscopy & Surgery clinic).

SINGAPORE — Despite mounting legal costs and a recent High Court ruling against her in a defamation suit filed by a surgeon, Serene Tiong has no intention of giving up the fight.

The 42-year-old former business development manager at Thomson Medical Centre (TMC) is even working three jobs to finance her legal bills.

Speaking to Yahoo News Singapore, Tiong said, You just have to be strong, this is just one of the things in life.”

Tiong has been in the news after colorectal surgeon Dr Julian Ong Kian Peng won the suit over her statements regarding his alleged misconduct towards women. Tiong had accused Dr Ong and Dr Chan Herng Nieng – the latter with whom she had an affair – of colluding to take sexual advantage of vulnerable women patients.

Tiong said that she was introduced to Dr Chan by a female colleague for her psychiatric issues arising from her marital difficulties. She had an affair with Dr Chan from early 2017, and eventually divorced her husband. However, they broke up in 2018, after Tiong obtained screenshots of WhatsApp conversations between Dr Ong and Dr Chan in relation to their sexual exploits.

Dr Ong was Dr Chan’s longtime friend and both had known each other since their medical school days. He and Tiong, on the other hand, were acquaintances who met only a few times via social gatherings.

During the interview at her flat, Tiong claimed that after their breakup, she demanded that Dr Chan produce his medical report as she was concerned over the blood that she had donated to the blood bank but he refused to do so.

Tiong subsequently filed a complaint to the Singapore Medical Council (SMC) alleging the misconduct of the two doctors towards several female patients including her.

She also forwarded the complaint to Singapore General Hospital where Dr Chan was then a senior consultant psychiatrist.

Dr Ong took Tiong to court for the defamatory remarks on 4 July 2018 but lost the case in April this year, after a District Judge ruled in Tiong’s favour.

However, the High Court overturned the lower court’s decision on 2 October, and ordered Tiong to pay $40,000 in costs for the proceedings, and damages to Dr Ong for libel, which are yet to be determined.

The judge also granted Dr Ong an injunction restraining Tiong from publishing or causing to be published defamatory remarks of him. Her final bid to appeal the defamation case against Dr Ong was refused on 20 November.

Tiong told Yahoo News Singapore that she “never intended” to forward SMC’s letter to SGH, claiming that she was compelled after Dr Chan had purportedly refused her multiple requests over the report. She maintained that she was not being vengeful.

A committee appointed by SMC has issued interim orders against Dr Chan and Dr Ong and restrictions for them to observe for 18 months including being barred from contacting “female patients for any purposes that are outside the scope of his medical practice”.

When asked about the upcoming final ruling by a disciplinary tribunal, Tiong said, “I only hope that SMC will give a fair judgment...I think doctors should hold the highest integrity and ethics.”

Despite her loss in the suit involving Dr Ong, Tiong is still pressing ahead with her separate suit against Dr Chan for allegedly recklessly or negligently prescribing her medicine for anxiety.

She is seeking $200,000 of what she claimed are costs for lifelong psychiatric treatment from Dr Chan, who is now practising at Capital MindHealth Clinic at Gleneagles Medical Centre.

After leaving TMC, Tiong said she has been trying unsuccessfully to apply for another job in the healthcare sector. She added that she had even re-applied for her former position at TMC, where she enjoyed a “good track record” from 2013 until last November. In the meantime, she is working as a swabber, a part-time health screener and an insurance agent to finance her legal fight.

Despite the considerable stress that she has been facing, Tiong insisted on soldiering on with her legal challenges.

“Just do what you believe is right. I think, at the end of the day, your conscience is clear. You don't benefit from anything from a law suit,” she added.

‘Looking forward to putting all behind in the past’: Dr Ong

Dr Ong also spoke to Yahoo News Singapore about the myriad of challenges that he has been facing since the allegations first surfaced in 2018. He said he took Tiong to court as he believed in the legal system and wanted to set the record straight.

“How do you feel when you’re maligned, when people make allegations against you, that you know are completely untrue? I mean she selected screenshots out of tens of thousands of texts I sent to my friend over how many years...to further her case,” said Dr Ong, who runs his own endoscopy and surgery clinics across Singapore.

During the interview, Dr Ong referred to a finding by Justice See Kee Oon concerning one of his patients, a female property agent, in the suit that he won against Tiong. While dismissing several allegations of misconduct against Dr Ong, Justice See nonetheless found that he and Dr Chan colluded to try to take advantage of the patient, with Dr Ong giving Dr Chan her contact information and seemingly egging him on to have sex with her.

Dr Ong said that he was trying to be helpful by getting the patient’s consent and sharing her contact number with Dr Chan. “Both of us have been practising long enough to know where the lines and boundaries (are). We don’t cross those boundaries.”

While his business has been stable, Dr Ong said that the case had put a strain on him, his family and friends. He declined to give details and said he was sorry to those who have stood by him.

“People who know me, who have been my own patients, understand I’m not the kind of person. I reiterate that I have never done anything to any patient, no ulterior motives, and have never, will never be unprofessional.”

Dr Ong was also asked about an online petition addressed to the SMC to have him and Dr Chan struck off as doctors. He said that people have made judgments based on a “one-sided story”.

Despite his legal issues, Dr Ong said he and Dr Chan are still friends and that he did not blame him for what had happened.

As for Tiong, he urged her to find closure and put the matter behind her.

“I wish that she would just move on from this failed relationship (between Tiong and Dr Chan) and move on gracefully. We still (have) many years ahead of us, why do we need to harp on this? How long do you need to hold a grudge?”

“Just let bygones be bygones and move on with life.”

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