The colour of money

opinion January 29, 2012 00:00

By Nutdanai Charasjirawat,

7,819 Viewed

The government's compensation package for victims of political unrest has drawn a lot of flak. How do those eligible to receive it feel?

Earlier this month, the Yingluck Shinawatra government approved a plan to pay compensation to victims of political unrest over a period stretching from late 2005 when the yellow shirts held protests against then-prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra to May 2010 when the red shirts staged street demonstrations against the government of Abhisit Vejjajiva.

The package covers all groups of people affected by violent political incidents with compensation of up to Bt7.75 million paid for death and severe disability.
And, just as with their political views, the recipients are divided on the package. 
Thanutad and Waranid Asawasirimonkong’s decision to go to a downtown department store in May 2010 changed the course of this family’s life forever. Thanutad, a father of two, was waiting for a taxi with his family when he heard the sound of gunfire. Seconds later, he collapsed, victim of a random bullet that struck him in the back and damaged his spinal chord. This incident took place on Rama IV Road during the clashes between the military and red-shirt supporters who had been on Bangkok’s streets since March, demonstrating against Abhisit Vejjajiva’s government.
Waranid, 50, who is now responsible for raising their two children, explains that Thanutad’s lower body paralysis has now evolved into quadriplegia and left him unable to speak.
“Before he was shot, my husband had cancer of the gall bladder. His symptoms are now more serious. He’s suffered a lung infection, which sent him into the ICU. That’s when he became entirely paralysed,” she says. 
With the two of them working as vendors, the family had a comfortable life but now every penny goes toward the children’s education. She takes on extra jobs to top her up her income and while she received some assistance from family members, the going is tough. 
“For me, the truth is not important anymore. All I need right now is a lump sum to support my family. It’s hard for me to find a job these days because I’m not that young anymore,” says Waranid.
For hardcore political believers like Khattiya Swatdiphol, the truth is more important than anything else. 
A daughter of Major General Khattiya Swatdiphol aka Seh Daeng who was shot dead by sniper fire on May 13, 2010, at the Sala Daeng intersection during a red-shirt rally, Khattiya, 30, wants to know who is responsible for her father’s death.
“The compensation cannot bring my dad back. It should go hand in hand with the legal process. However, the compensation would help reconciliation. All the victims’ hopes are focused on the justice system.” 
She believes the money will reduce the volume of indignation.
Her father’s death didn’t affect her financially, as she had already established a career as a lawyer at law firm. Now though, she’s left that behind, choosing to enter the political world to honour her father.
The wife of a red-shirt supporter, who asks not to be named, will never forget April 10, 2010. Early that day, she’d seen her husband off to Rajdamneon Road for the red shirt gathering while she stayed behind in Bangkok’s western suburbs to take care of her noodle stall. The next day, he collapsed, the result of a reaction to tear gas. 
“The doctor at the local hospital told me he was paralysed on one side and unable to speak due to the effects of tear gas combined with his allergies and high blood pressure. Even today, he can only marginally respond and rarely moves.”
Fortunately, her husband is a member of the Bt30 universal healthcare scheme, but that only covers medical expenses. Everything else, she has to pay for herself but because her husband requires so much care, her only income is the Bt2,000 her son can spare. “I feel good about the compensation package. It’s fair and I’m willing to take it,” she says.
Rungsak Setakanjaporn, 35, whose achilles tendon was severed by a bullet during the clashes between the military and the red-shirt protesters on Rama IV Road wonders about the compensation criteria. 
“If the government wants reconciliation, they must have clear criteria. My eardrum was ruptured and I still can’t hear properly. So, I wonder whether I will get the money or not, since the medical certificate doesn’t mention this,” says Rungsak.
The injury stopped him from working for almost a year and he says his ankle, while better, is still lacking in strength. His wife is currently taking care of the entire family and raising their three children, all under the age of four. 
“I started a new job six days ago but it’s not stable employment,” he says. 
On April 10, 2010, Santipong Injan, a new Mae Fa Luang university graduate, walked to the Kok Wua intersection, bringing with him some grilled pork and sticky rice. The moment he arrived at the rally, he sensed the atmosphere was different.
Not long afterwards, the soldiers charged. “I’m a big guy. So, I was like a shield against those soldiers,” he says.
Santipong was shot in the upper body and underwent surgery four times between April and August. He also lost an eye.
“After I recovered, I applied for a job as a foreign affairs reporter at Voice TV but had to quit after a month because working at a computer for too long can affect my other eye. The doctor said it’s bad for me long term,” he says.
He feels it’s the government’s duty to pay compensation. “They cannot take us back to where we use to be. Some of us are still injured and our families are affected too. I hope they don’t attach conditions to compensation. If they do, I think it will be chaos. And they must still find out who’s responsible for these events,” he says.
In 2008, supporters of the People Alliance for Democracy (PAD), also known as the yellow shirts, occupied the Government House and Makkhawan Rangsan Bridge to pressure Samak Sundaravej's and subsequently Somsak Wongsawat’s coalition government to resign. While attacks were sporadic, the most violent occurred in a clash with police on October 7, 2008. The victims of these protests are also to receive compensation and Tee Sae-Tiew has received the news with cautious interest. 
“My life changed completed after I lost my right leg. I was a freelance messenger, so I cannot work as usual,” says the 63-year-old yellow-shirt supporter, who lost his leg in an explosion in front of Metropolitan Police Bureau on October 7.
“I had to buy an artificial leg and some drugs on my own. The leg cost Bt40,000. When it was broken, I had to paid Bt10,000 to repair it,” 
He received Bt400,000 compensation from Somchai’s government but says it did not cover all his expenses.
Tee is consulting with PAD’s attorney before deciding to take the compensation.
Another yellow-shirt supporter who asked not to be named, lost part of her right foot in the crackdown at Metropolitan Police Bureau on October 7.
“I don’t believe the government will compensate the victims. Government should choose a different way to resolve problems and not use violence. Compensation is not the way towards reconciliation. It’s just to reward their side,” she says.
“I wonder if they will compensate soldiers in the three southernmost provinces. No matter how much money the government gives the victims, it’s not worth a life.”