Thailand

As COVID-19 Rages, Ideological War Continues to Claim Collateral Damage

as-covid-19-rages,-ideological-war-continues-to-claim-collateral-damage
Left: Dung Pan-in Saengsila / Facebook. Right, a man on a Foodpanda motorcycle captured in a video posted by @Tonpatiwat, whom Foodpanda called a “terrorist.” Photo: ​​Tonpatiwat / Twitter

The tragedies of the current COVID-19 outbreak is that not only many people are becoming infected and dying every day, but things have become very political to the point where some may become casualties of the raging ideological war. 

Anti-government and monarchy-reform protest leaders announced a ban on Foodpanda delivery services last Sunday. This ocurred after one of its demonstrators who was captured on video appeared to set fire to a large image of the King on during the protests, and the food delivery giant described the man as a terrorist.

The man, Sitthichoke (family name withheld by his attorney) was arrested on Monday for lese-majeste and later let out on bail. Sitthichoke insisted that he was trying to extinguish the pre-existing fire with water at the base of a large portrait of the king, and not the other way round. But the fact that he left on a bike with a Foodpanda box, that’s used to store ordered food inside, clearly visible on the back of his motorbike led to Foodpanda denouncing the man on its official Twitter account on Sunday as “terrorist”. The reaction was to boycott Foodpanda and over a million “ban Foodpanda” hashtag mentions was trending by Monday noon.

The food delivery giant may have apologized later on Monday afternoon, but it was too little too late.

“We are sorry to have caused disappointment and upset any parties due to a recent comment on our Twitter channel. The comment was posted by our team member without consent from Foodpanda, and does not represent Foodpanda. We know this has hugely affected and frustrated customers, riders, partners and members of the public, and we are taking responsibility for this comment that was posted on our Twitter feed, regardless of who posted it and how it occurred. For this hurt we have caused you, we are truly sorry,” part of the apology issued in both Thai and English read, adding that Foodpanda stressed that they respect “freedom of speech and expression.” 

Protesters, leaders and ordinary demonstrators were not convinced. No one was publicly identified as the culprit by Foodpanda and they insist the boycott runs its “logical” course even if those who will be most severely affected will be ordinary food delivery men and women, the so-called “riders”.

All I hear repeatedly on social media is that they are waging an ideological “war” to oust Prime Minister Gen. Prayut Chan-o-cha and reform the monarchy institution, and any casualties of war, or collateral damage, was to be expected. Never mind if some of these riders had absolutely nothing to do with the fiasco. Never mind if under the current COVID-19-hit economic crisis it’s hard enough to make ends meet especially if you’re from a working class. People who insist on boycotting Foodpanda told me it’s up to these riders to either switch to work for other rival companies or protest against their own employer.

Soon enough, Foodpanda suffered yet another blow from the other end of the ideological camp with a prominent ultra-royalist calling for a ban of the services as well. Rianthong Nanna, owner of Mongkutwattana Hospital announced on Facebook that his hospital and affiliated field hospitals will also henceforth ban Foodpanda. On top of that, Rianthong, himself a medical doctor and a former army general, said his hospital will not admit any monarchy-reform and anti-government protesters who may become infected with COVID-19. Forget about the Hippocratic oath to “treat the sick to the best of one’s ability.” Rianthong sticks to hypocrisy and abandonment of Hippocratic oath in this ideological war instead. To him, these people are casualties of war, collateral damage, as well.

Empathy is scarce in this ideological war. It’s as if we all collectively are not stressed enough, not suffering enough. Most are now just pawns, foot soldiers, and expendable in the ideological struggle.

If anything, the COVID-19 crisis should make us become more humane, and feel the pains of others more acutely, not less. For some, it’s an ideological war out there and being humane and empathetic are also casualties of the war they are waging.

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