Friday, August 20, 2010

Meet the MOST Trusted Person in Thailand

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by Ahmad Kamal Alias/HARAKAH

Dr Pornthip Rojanasunan

EXCLUSIVE PETALING JAYA, Aug 20: While minister in the prime minister's department Nazri Aziz had once called Thai forensic expert Dr Pornthip Rojanasunan a "liar", a Reader's Digest survey published earlier this year found that Pornthip was the most trusted individual in all of Thailand.

MACC top dog, kid you not.

The survey found that the public's trust in Pornthip, whose testimony at the ongoing inquest into the death of DAP officer Teoh Beng Hock has irked the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission and several government leaders, also exceeded their trust in Phra Ajarn Alongkot Dikkapanyo, the head monk at a Buddhist temple in aid of AIDS victims, who ranked second.

During the last session of the inquest, Pornthip was subjected to agressive line of questioning which bordered on personal attacks and even questioning her academic qualifications.

On August 18, MACC's counsel Abdul Razak Musa drew jeers from observers when he said that the university from which Pornthip graduated was not recognised by Malaysia, suggesting that Pornthip was not qualified to testify.

Unable to take the persistent attacks any longer, Pornthip shot back that she was also only interested in "the rights of the dead".


Pornthip after all is sometimes known as "Dr Death". The dead may not be able to speak on behalf of Pornthip, but her vast experience and no-nonsense approach when dealing with her work made her one of the most respected figures in Thailand.

Dr Pornthip Rojanasunan, according to respondents of the survey conducted in October last year, has worked "dedicatedly and fearlessly to bring justice to our society,” said the magazine in its March 2010 edition.

Long before fictitious heroes such as CSI Miami's sunglasses-wearing Seargent Horatio Caine and CSI:NY's stern-faced Detective Mac Taylor came into the scene to give forensic scientists their long-awaited recognition by Hollywood, Pornthip had already adapted her own unique style defying the stereotypical portrayal of people in her line of work as nerds locked in their labs with their plain white suits.

Pornthip's flamboyant, punk-dyed hairstyle and eccentric clothing style, however, have made her a darling among media photographers, including in Malaysia.

In one interview, Pornthip said she considered herself to be "individualistic", but for a noble aim.

“I originally chose to study pathology, which is shunned by most medical students. I intend to work in the government bureaucracy, and see that I can contribute to solutions of social problems to an extent. Besides, I am serious with my work, I love justice and fairness, and am very individualistic.

"This is why I made this choice in life. In studying pathology and anatomy, about 10 percent of the work involved autopsies. So, I experienced these, but not on a full-cycle basis."

Born in 1954, Pornthip is today Thailand's most renowned forensic pathologist and director of the Central Institute of Forensic Science, an organisation under the country's Ministry of Justice. Her expert opinion has been eagerly sought after for evidence-gathering and investigation purposes.

During the riots in Bangkok earlier this year, the Thai government appointed her as a member of the Center for the Resolution of Emergency Situation (CRES), the powerful body which was responsible in handling the brief emergency rule declared in several parts of Thailand last April.

Her services were also critical during the 2004 tsunami, and in the aftermath of the infamous Tak Bai tragedy in 2004, when 78 Muslims died under army custody following their arrest during a protest against police abuses in southern Thailand. Pornthip had then provided damning evidences of military abuse of the detained Muslims, most of whom were fasting, and who died when they were stuffed inhumanly into trucks.

Although Pornthip is a government appointee, she has no qualms to call a spade a spade, and has many times spoken out against police abuses and human rights violations.

Politicians, insurance agents, ranked lowest

Other individuals listed among the top ten by the survey were Dr. Sumet Tantivechakul, secretary general of the Chaipattana Foundation, Phra Promkunaporn, a spiritual leader and winner of an UNESCO Prize for Peace Education, media tycoon Phanya Nirunkul, film director Prince Chatrichalerm Yukol, leading banker Banthoon Lamsam, social workers Nuannoi Timkul and Suthasinee Noiin, and Thailand's renowned marine environmentalist Dr. Torn Thamrongnawasawat.

The majority of the individuals at the top of the survey's ranking were activists in non-profit organizations.

Perhaps reflecting a universal trend, the survey also found that politicians ranked the lowest when it comes to trust, followed by psychics or astrologers, and insurance agents.

And speaking of astrologers, Pornthip was also subjected to their own analysis by Thailand's celebrity magazine, Who Magazine:

"Her birth year is considered the rival of this year. So Khunying Pornthip will encounter many obstacles in everything she does. She will have to be very exhausted from work which may discourage her greatly. However, according to her horoscope, Khunying Pornthip will not give in so easily as she is a fighter. Well, she should have been born as a man, according to her horoscope. Only her body is a female but her heart is as strong as any men’s."

With astrologers now proved to be among the most untrustworthy of human beings, feminists will be happy to note that above remarks may be conveniently dismissed.

But Pornthip herself recognises the pros and cons of her profession, especially as a woman:

“Women are suited to this profession, as they are meticulous, anxious, picky, and doubting. Such attributes can be turned into assets for the profession," Pornthip told Thailand Illustrated magazine in 2001.

"But they are destructive when applied with family members," she quickly added.

It will be interesting, meanwhile, to find out how Pornthip fared with other personalities in Malaysia.

While it is not clear how she is viewed by the Malaysian public, who have just begun to get to know Pornthip and her fashion tastes, one thing clear is that she certainly enjoys far more goodwill than the likes of Nazri and Abdul Aziz Musa.

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