'Trash' doc urges harsh medicine
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'Trash' doc urges harsh medicine

Slammed for his lese majeste stance, Dr Rienthong is still bent on weeding out wrongdoers

Little was known about the doctor who runs a private hospital in Bangkok until he volunteered to clean up uncollected “rubbish” he says is defiling the country’s highest institution.

Corruption and nepotism feature high on Dr Rienthong’s list of reforms along with weeding out those who attack the monarchy.

Committed to the cause of protecting the monarchy, Dr Rienthong Nanna set up an office for a new group, the Rubbish Collection Organisation (RCO), in the family-owned Mongkutwattana General Hospital on Chaeng Watthana Road in Bangkok.

The RCO’s aim is to sweep away lese majeste offenders as Dr Rienthong, who resigned as an army major general to run the hospital, has declared he feels privileged to wage a war against those who would offend the crown.

Dr Rienthong, 55, sprang to social network prominence when he was depicted on Facebook shoving and pushing against a line of riot police sent to re-take areas occupied by anti-government protesters on Chaeng Watthana Road earlier.

He and a band of protesters were preventing the police from advancing on the rally site.

A staunch defender of the monarchy, Dr Rienthong ended his career as operations director of the Army Medical Department in 2007 to run his family’s hospital in place of his elder sister who died from cancer.

He is among supporters of the People’s Democratic Reform Committee (PDRC) who are demanding national reform before the next general election. He insists he does not care if running the RCO will hurt his hospital.

He said anti-government protesters have suffered more losses than he has in terms of spending their time on the prolonged street protests and pooling their resources to keep the wheels of the protest moving.

“Those who come out must be sacrificing a lot. They sacrifice their personal happiness and family life to eat and sleep on the streets.

“This is why I disagree with those who speak of my sacrifice. I am not a hero. I am an ordinary man,” he said.

Dr Rienthong is the only son among seven siblings in the Nanna family which is the majority shareholder in the hospital, a listed company.

He denies he quit the military because he had failed to further his career. From 2003 to 2005 he was the personnel director of the Army Medical Department and was promoted to department director in 2007. He was 48 when he left military service.

Recalling his time in the military, Dr Rienthong said he had seen the patronage system in the bureaucracy, which prevented many able commanders from climbing the career ladder and taking charge of important responsibilities. They lacked connections and power holders preferred cronyism to merit.

“I know that patronage is ingrained in the bureaucracy of our nation, but people with ability should not be kept at bay. No one should be allowed to follow policies while ignoring the national interest,” Dr Rienthong said.

Reflecting on his political views, he stressed comprehensive national reform is long overdue in Thailand, especially as the country has suffered a bad political cycle punctuated by military coups and unstable politics.

Dr Rienthong said he does not know anyone from the various parties as he had never had any interest in politics. However, he joined the demonstrations staged by the People’s Alliance for Democracy (PAD) in 2005, which was fighting against the Thaksin Shinawatra government, when he was still serving in the army. He made a point to join the protests after work.

At the time, he said, he was sympathetic to the PAD’s cause as he felt the government was becoming dictatorial.

During the prolonged occupation of Government House by protesters in 2008, a PAD demonstrator was killed in a grenade attack. He said the violence motivated him to visit the protest site regularly.

He saw the deceased’s daughter speak in tears on the protest stage. For him, the image was powerfully emotional. “Having watched that live on stage, I decided I couldn’t just sit back and do nothing. There was this upsurge of guilt,” he said.

After he resigned from the army, Dr Rienthong managed his hospital during the day, and when night fell, he would grab his rucksack and head to the protest venue. He also treated sick demonstrators on the streets.

With the current PDRC protest, Dr Rienthong said he believes PDRC secretary-general Suthep Thaugsuban was leading the protest in good faith.

He has made it clear he intends to use the resources of his hospital to help protesters who fall ill or are injured. The free medical service also extends to soldiers injured while carrying out their peacekeeping duties around the protest sites.

“Someone asked me why I don’t remain neutral. Then I asked them if their neutrality means to sit idly by and take no action.

“When it comes to choosing sides, we must go with righteousness. We shouldn’t be scared and let the bad elements do what they please,” he said.

“It’s not enough to simply choose sides. We should also show where we stand. We must decide if we will tolerate wrong values in society,’’ Dr Rienthong said.

When the government does something wrong, then it is wrong. “We must call a spade a spade,” he said.

“Thaksin or no Thaksin, we must reform politics and the bureaucracy. Otherwise, the nation will not survive.

“It is full of corruption at all levels and state authority is being abused. How can we let this continue?” Dr Rienthong asked.

Dr Rienthong speaks to members of his anti-lese majeste Rubbish Collection Organisation (RCO) during one of their meetings. Thiti Wannamontha

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