Netizens react to cast of characters thrown up during rescue bid
Over the past week of frantic efforts to locate the missing 12 school footballers and their coach in Tham Luang cave in Chiang Rai, many of the participants in the unfolding story have been portrayed on social media as either heroes or villains.
Deputy national police chief Srivara Ransibrahmanakul, for example, has come under fire after being caught in some video clips showing an apparently fastidious adherence to protocol.
Angry netizens lambasted Pol Gen Srivara for seemingly making life more difficult for the rescue workers in the clips which were widely shared on social media.
In one clip, Pol Gen Srivara was shown demanding to see a drone that was used to search the cave before asking his subordinate: "Is there an operating licence? [for the drone] If not, you might be punished."
He was also criticised for saying those responsible for implementing the idea of using a drone should consult the laws concerned before proceeding, as well as questioning why no one told the parents of the missing youths to formally lodge a complaint with police so they are fully protected under the law.
Following the huge wave of criticism directed against him, Pol Gen Srivara defended himself in an interview on Friday, saying he hadn't done anything wrong and had only tried to set a good example of how state officials should conduct themselves in a crisis.
State officials are required to follow strict protocols otherwise their departments are not eligible for the disbursement of state budget for the work they have done, he said, adding that disaster mitigation doesn't override other laws.
"If the rest of the society believes I have not carried out my duties correctly, I apologise. However, I have done nothing wrong, and only tried to be professional as I am the one who must give out the instructions," he said.
But to Wibulthon Kamolnaruemeth and many social media users, the way Pol Gen Srivara has been seen behaving in those clips justifies their calls for him to be removed from his position.
Mr Wibulthon, a Bangkok resident, on Friday night posted on Facebook calling on Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha to consider dismissing Pol Gen Srivara from his job. He also asked those who agreed with him to comment in support. The post got more than 400,000 likes and received more than 192,000 comments as of press time yesterday.
Reaction to Pol Gen Srivara's much-criticised role in the rescue operation was in stark contrast to those officials hailed by the netizens as heroes of the hour.
Among them is national police chief Chakthip Chaijinda who was captured in some pictures, which also went viral, travelling on foot uphill across difficult terrain to where his team had abseiled down a shaft to lower food, drink and other necessary items.
Similar praise was directed at deputy police chief, Wirachai Songmetta, who climbed Doi Pha Mee with another police team to reach the other end of the cave network.
Meanwhile, another official to have received the backing of social media users is Chiang Rai governor Narongsak Osotthanakorn, whose leadership and decisiveness in the operation at the cave have been evident.
The public's respect for these officials has been reflected in the number of times their biographies and careers have been detailed both online and in print.
Pol Gen Chakthip's shaft exploration operation made headlines in both mainstream and online media. These reports were accompanied by accounts of his impressive track record.
He has been lauded as a successful crime suppression officer who played an important role in several incidents including negotiating the release of hostages taken during a jailbreak staged by several Myanmar inmates at Samut Sakhon prison in 2000.
During his time as a deputy chief of the Metropolitan Police Bureau, Pol Gen Chakthip was dubbed the "tear gas gentleman" when he led a police operation to disperse a group from the People's Alliance for Democracy outside parliament and was seen taking off his own shirt to provide first aid to an injured protester.
The motto with which he goes about his duties also won the hearts of the watching public: "As a commander, be a fertiliser not an insecticide. Make your subordinates grow wherever you go, and don't let them die."
Mr Narongsak, meanwhile, earned praise for being a man of his word as well as sacrificing his time and energy throughout the duration of the crisis after saying he was treating the missing 13 people as if they were his own family and pledging do whatever it takes to find them.
"Some asked me why I have to always be here … well, it's like when we feel we're losing a fight and if the commander-in-chief isn't there, who will be willing to fight on?" he was quoted as saying.