Anita Rachman & Ezra Sihite
A Sidoarjo mud volcano victim’s tearful request for forgiveness from Aburizal Bakrie comes as a slap in the face to the rest of the victims of the disaster that has been widely blamed on a company linked to the business tycoon, a rights activist says.
Haris Azhar, executive coordinator of the Commission for Missing Persons and Victims of Violence (Kontras), told the Jakarta Globe on Thursday that he was shocked to hear the plea made by Hari Suwandi in an interview on Wednesday night on tvOne, a television station owned by Aburizal.
In the interview, Hari said he regretted his 25-day walk from Sidoarjo in East Java to Jakarta to protest against Aburizal, and added that he believed the Golkar Party chairman would eventually resolve the mud volcano problem in Sidoarjo.
“It’s not only a regretful statement, but also shameful,” Haris said.
“All of us at Kontras were shocked to see him on TV last night.”
Hari’s first stop upon arriving in Jakarta earlier this month was the Kontras office. Haris said Kontras welcomed him because of a recommendation from the group’s Surabaya office.
“We had people supporting and helping Hari to bring his protest here. But we had no idea whatsoever about his appearance on tvOne,” he said.
During the broadcast, Hari said he regretted all of his actions. He said that after 16 days of protesting in the capital and not getting a single government official to respond, he had changed his mind.
“At the moment, I’m sure and I believe that the Bakrie [family] will be able to resolve the problems in Sidoarjo, especially for the victims of the Lapindo, er, Sidoarjo mud,” he said.
“I, Hari Suwandi, and my family apologize to Aburizal Bakrie’s family for tarnishing his good name along my journey,” he added while sobbing.
Hari claimed he had been put up by others to undertake the protest against the lack of full compensation from Minarak Lapindo Jaya, a Bakrie-linked company, for the thousands of families displaced by the eruption of a mud volcano widely blamed on the drilling activities of a subsidiary company, Lapindo Brantas.
Paring Waluyo Utomo, a representative of the mud flow victims, also expressed shock at Hari’s unscheduled TV appearance and about-face.
He revealed that Hari had earlier told him that Andi Darussalam Tabussala, the Minarak vice president, had contacted him and wanted to discuss something.
“I told him to go meet [Andi]. But seeing him on TV, I was shocked. His family here are all disappointed and regret the statements,” Paring told the Globe by phone from Sidoarjo.
“Whatever Hari said, it doesn’t represent the views of the Lapindo mud victims. It’s his own ploy to get money.”
Paring, who helped organize Hari’s protest march, said he could not reach Hari by phone after the interview until late on Thursday.
He added he had heard reports that Hari had been paid off to make his statements on TV. “I heard that he will get Rp 5 million [$530] every month,” Paring said.
Hari could not be reached on Thursday by the Globe to confirm the allegation.
Kontras’s Haris said he regretted that Hari did not state explicitly in the interview whether he had been offered some sort of financial compensation over his statements or whether he had reached a deal with Minarak related to his claim in the Sidoarjo disaster.
Andi, who also spoke in the interview via phone, said there were many people trying to politicize the mud volcano disaster, particularly now that Aburizal had announced his candidacy for the 2014 presidential election. “The politicization is getting more frequent with regard to the mud issue,” he said.
Hari’s about-face, though, has already been seized on by other parties. Ruhut Sitompul, from the ruling Democratic Party, said the move could be linked to Aburizal’s attempt to present a clean image ahead of the polls.
“It’s a case that will hamper him in the election because East Java is one of the major voter bases,” he said.