Constitution Defence Monument, the historical monument that disappeared

The approximately 4-metre-tall concrete monument located near the Lak Si roundabout disappeared without trace on 28 Dec 2018, even though it was situated in front of Bangkhen Police Station. However, no one has been able to answer – how did the monument disappear even when 5 months earlier it had been registered as a National Historic Site in the Royal Gazette?

This monument is the Constitution Defence Monument. It has had various names such as the Rebellion Suppression Monument, Lak Si Monument or the 17 Soldiers and Police Monument. It was constructed to contain the ashes of 17 soldiers and police officers who lost their lives suppressing a rebellion by the National Salvation Group led by Prince Boworadet in mid-October 1933, just one year after the Siamese Revolution that changed the country into a democracy.

The Boworadet Rebellion, the reason for building the monument

Sarunyou Thepsongkraow, a lecturer at the Department of History, Faculty of Social Sciences, Kasetsart University, who is interested in the history of Khana Ratsadon (the People’s Party), recounted the origin of the Constitution Defence Monument. It was built to commemorate the suppression of the Boworadet Rebellion in Oct 1933, which was an attempt by the former power holders to overthrow the new system of government of Khana Ratsadon
Provincial troops led by Prince Boworadet, military officers and aristocrats from the old regime, banded together into a force called the National Salvation Group (khana ku ban ku mueang) which issued an ultimatum demanding the resignation of the government of Phraya Phahonphonphayuhasena (Phot Phahonyothin) ; otherwise they would seize power by force. The government did not comply and resolved to suppress the rebellion.

The Group moved from the provinces of Nakhon Ratchasima, Saraburi and Phra Nakhon Si Ayutthaya to surround Bangkok in mid-Oct 1933, leading to fights breaking out all along the railway line. One important battlefield was at Lak Si.

When peace returned, the rebellion had been defeated while the government lost a total of 17 soldiers and police officers. One of the casualties was Luang Amnuai Songkhram, a Khana Ratsadon soldier close to Field Marshal Plaek Phibunsongkhram, who later became the longest-serving Prime Minister in Thai history.

Luang Amnuai Songkhram, a Khana Ratsadon soldier, was killed in the battle

Damage from the Boworadet Rebellion

The government hailed the 17 soldiers and police officers who lost their lives in suppressing the rebellion as national heroes and gave them the distinction of a cremation at Sanam Luang, thought to be the first non-royal funeral to be held there since the revolution.

The government later constructed a strategic road to connect Sanam Pao in the city, to Don Muang Airport, because of the problems faced by having to send forces from Don Muang to Sanam Pao during the battle by train. On the route, they constructed a monument at Lak Si to commemorate the event and named the road Prachathipat (Democrat). The name was later changed to Phahonyothin Road, Thailand’s Highway 1. After construction was complete, an inauguration ceremony for the monument was held on 15 October 1936.

Uprooting Democracy: The War of Memory and the Lost Legacy of the People’s Party, 19 December 2019

 

Two revolutionary leader statues gone missing, 29 January 2020

Monument design with a tray for the constitution 

The history lecturer said that the Rebellion Suppression Monument, since it was built before the Democracy Monument, was the first to show a tray holding the constitution.

Every year, a commemoration was held where people placed wreaths. During Field Marshal Phibun’s premiership, there was an attempt to make the monument an important landmark by moving the Bang Khen District Office to the vicinity, as well as constructing nearby a police station, health clinic, school and the Democracy Temple (Wat Phra Sri Mahathat Woramahawihan). This shows that it was an important area during Khana Ratsadon times. 

Model of the Constitution Defence Monument 

The monument also had connections with local people. For example, it was used as the symbol for Ban Khen Sukhapiban (sanitary district) and became a public park for people to rest and relax. 

But after the 2014 coup, the area surrounding the monument became sensitive. It was surrounded by trees as a barrier, and students who went to clean the monument were arrested. 

Moved without permission

Prachatai exercised its rights under the Official Information Act to require the Fine Arts Department to provide information about the relocation of the Constitution Defence Monument. We found that in the last 10 years, there have been 2 requests to change its location: in 2012 from the Department of Highways and in 2015 from the Mass Rapid Transit Authority of Thailand (MRTA). As for the move on 28 Dec 2018 which led to the disappearance of the Monument, no individual or agency made a legal request to the Fine Arts Department for its relocation. 

Proposed design for the relocation of the Constitution Defence Monument in the August 2013 MRTA report

Sathaporn Thiangtham, then Director of the Office of Archaeology, said in an interview on 21 Oct 2020 that the archaeological site conservation group of the Fine Arts Department had surveyed the area in late September 2020. They asked police officers from the nearby police box and motorcycle taxi drivers near the area – all answered that they had seen it there before but did not know when it had disappeared. 

Bangkhen Police Station said that the Director General of the Fine Arts Department had authorised Sathaporn to file charges on 2 Dec 2020 against whoever had moved the Monument for removing a National Historic Site without permission,.

Sathaporn Thiangtham, former Director of the Office of Archaeology, Fine Arts Department

 

The BMA has no information on its relocation

Prachatai again exercised its rights under the Official Information Act and asked the Bangkok Metropolitan Administration (BMA) about the relocation of the Constitution Defence Monument, as the Fine Arts Department had named the BMA as caretaker of the Monument according to a Cabinet Resolution on 4 July 1945.

It took about 4 months for the Bangkok Governor to assign the Department of City Planning and Urban Development to collect data for an answer on 22 Jan 2021, which stated that the BMA was responsible only for cleaning. The relocation of the Monument in 2018 was within the construction area of the MRTA. The BMA had not received any notification relating to the Constitution Defence Monument at all.

Proposed design for Wat Phra Sri Mahathat BTS station in an August 2013 MRTA report

Those that went to watch arrested, phones seized, livestreams ordered deleted 

Although government agencies do not know how and where the Constitution Defence Monument disappeared, there is one group of people that heard news about its relocation and went to watch events from the night of 27 into the morning of 28 Dec 2018.

Sarunyou Thepsongkraow

Sarunyou was one of the people keeping track of the Monument’s relocation. He said that he received news from Prachachat’s Facebook page on the afternoon of 27 Dec 2018 that there was to be a relocation of the Monument. Before, there had been something like large metal sheets surrounding the Monument, so he had prepared to go and observe. 
When he arrived at the location at around 10 pm, there were military personnel and police officers ordering that no photos be taken. Sarunyou was able to talk to a plainclothes military officer who claimed to be from ISOC (Internal Security Operations Command). Later, journalists and other people began to enter the area. The officials tried to prevent them from taking any photos or recording any videos. They invited Sarunyou to the police box in the middle of the Lak Si roundabout and asked him to show them his phone to delete any photos. But Sarunyou had arrived before the Monument was moved , so he had no photos of interest.

“The police officer asked to take a photo of my ID Card and asked who I was and also asked to look at my phone and at various applications like LINE, Facebook, claiming that if I didn’t show it to them, they wouldn’t release me,” Sarunyou said. 
The history lecturer also said that while he was detained in the police box along with around 8 others, he saw the end of the relocation of the Monument through the police box’s security cameras. The top part with the constitution tray was separated and put into a truck, while the body of the Monument was laid on its side and taken by a crane. Police and military followed in vehicles. 

Sarunyou said that he was detained until about 3.40 am on 28 Dec 2018. Within the group of people who were detained together there were students and journalists. The activists that had come later to livestream the relocation of the Monument were detained separately and he did not meet them.
Kan Phongpraphaphan, a democracy activist, was another who had heard the news and went to watch the relocation of the Monument. He said that he took a taxi to Bang Khen with another friend. When he arrived, the construction site was in operation.

There were green nets and sheets looking like galvanised iron sheets. He started to livestream through Facebook as well as providing narration about the Rebellion Suppression Monument. 

Kan Phongpraphaphan

Kan and his friend had been livestreaming for no longer than 5 minutes when about 10 people surrounded them, asking what he was livestreaming. When he answered the Rebellion Suppression Monument, one person instantly grabbed his phone and called over a police officer to arrest him, asking him to stop following what was happening. 

Kan said that they were taken to Bangkhen Police Station by car and were made to wait many hours at the station. His phone was taken away. A person claiming to be military ordered him to delete the live video while at the Police Station. He did not know that Sarunyou’s group was also being detained at the police box. 

Kan was detained from around midnight on 28 Dec 2018 and released at around 3 am. Police filed a report that he had livestreamed at the Rebellion Suppression Monument and was arrested by officers. Kan confirmed that police showed him the report to confiscate his phone, before releasing him without giving him his phone back, claiming that they had taken it for examination. They told Kan to come back to retrieve it in the evening, and that lawyers were prohibited from becoming involved. 
Kan’s opinion is that some people may have understood that the Monument was moved, but he thinks that it may have already been destroyed. 

Kan after getting back his phone from Bangkhen Police Station. Photo taken by Thai Lawyers for Human Rights.

 

Location lost, no data

Other than the livestream that was ordered deleted, what is interesting is the news from Prachachat which reported that on the night of 23 Dec 2018 the BMA held a quiet ceremony to permanently move the Monument to the Nong Bon construction centre, with the move to start on the night of 27 Dec 2018 using a large truck; 

A Voice TV journalist also wrote a post stating that the Director of the BMA Public Works Department denied that the Rebellion Suppression Monument had been moved to the Nong Bon construction centre as reported by Prachachat and said that he had no information about the move at all. The post was both deleted both from the website and the Facebook page. 

In addition to that, when Prachatai sent a letter in writing to Bangkhen Police Station asking for details of the relocation of the Monument, it took around 2 months for a response through a telephone call. Without providing a reason, police said that their superiors did not allow them to reveal the information requested. This was followed by a written response, saying that they have no information. 

Former location of the Constitution Defence Monument in Dec 2020

Prachatai made a complaint to the Official Information Commission, requesting that the Commission investigate the existence of the police report that Sarunyou and Kan had mentioned. A response from the Official Information Commission was received on 5 April 2021 stating:

“Bangkhen Police Station confirms that no state or private organisation had informed Bangkhen Police Station about the relocation of the Constitution Defence Monument. They did not assign any police officers to control or facilitate the relocation of the Constitution Defence Monument. There was no detention of Sarunyou Thepsongkraow and Kan Phongpraphaphan in any way. It is believed that Bangkhen Police Station has no information as requested in its possession.”

For progress in the case, Prachatai contacted the Office of Archaeology on 23 June 2021. Chinnawut Winyalai, the new Director, replied that he had just recently taken the position and would like some time to gather information. An appointment was made for Prachatai to contact him again on 28 June 2021 at 11 am, but when Prachatai tried to make contact at the appointed time, no official answered the phone.

For now, we will have to see if Bangkhen Police Station has the capability to track down the Monument even though the incident happened in front of the station and near a police box in Lak Si roundabout. Or will a National Historical Site disappear forever?

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