Jakarta – Sutopo Purwo Nugroho, known to many as Pak Topo, the spokesman of the National Disaster Mitigation Agency (BNPB), passed away on Sunday in Guangzhou, China, at 2:20 a.m. local time after more than a year of battling lung cancer. He was 49.
A self-proclaimed passive smoker, Sutopo was told by doctors in 2017 that his stage-four lung cancer had spread and was ordered to undergo intensive treatment, which included chemotherapy every three weeks.
Despite the discouraging news, however, Sutopo remained active as the frontman of the BNPB who relayed disaster-related information to all of Indonesia – a country that sits on the volcanically active Pacific Ring of Fire – for the next year.
"When disaster strikes, everyone needs valid information they can rely on, and that kind of information must come from the BNPB. If I [as the agency's spokesman] can't deliver that, the public will receive hoaxes and fake news, causing panic," Sutopo told The Jakarta Post in an interview in October last year.
On Feb. 28, Sutopo sent out an apology for not being able to attend a press conference on a range of issues, including a forest fire in Riau, as his health had deteriorated.
However, Sutopo continued to update the press by sending official statements in the following months, even as he struggled with the pain of typing them.
He left for Guangzhou for further treatment in June but succumbed to the disease on Sunday.
Sutopo was flown to Indonesia on the same day and will be buried in his hometown of Boyolali, Central Java, on Monday morning. He is survived by his wife and two sons.
Sutopo's death is not only a big loss for the agency but also for the nation. "He's a hero of humanity who continued to serve the public even in sickness," said BNPB head Doni Monardo. "May he rest in peace."
Sutopo posted his last tweet June 15: the Indonesian map marked with dots indicating the latest movement of clouds.
The post gained over 941 retweets and 3,132 likes, with more than a thousand replies from the public sending their deepest condolences.
Sutopo was born on Oct. 7, 1969, in Boyolali to Suharsono Harsosaputro and Sri Roosmandari. He graduated top of his class with a bachelor of geography from Yogyakarta-based Gadjah Mada University (UGM) in 1993 and later pursued a master's and doctoral degree in hydrology from the Bogor Agricultural University (IPB).
He started his career in public service with the Assessment and Application of Technology Agency (BPPT) in 1994 before he was assigned to the BNPB in 2010. Among his first tasks as the agency's spokesman was to relay information regarding a flood in West Papua, and earthquake in Mentawai, West Sumatra, and Mount Merapi's eruptions in Central Java.
He received the Public Campaigner Award in 2014 and recognized as by the Straits Times as one of its Asians of the Year in 2018.
The Indonesian public was also familiar with a different side to Sutopo, who made it public that he was a fan of President Joko "Jokowi" Widodo and pop singer Raisa. The hashtag #RaisaMeetsSutopo was popularized by social media users in October 2018 and Sutopo was finally able to see his wishes granted on Nov. 1 when Raisa met him in South Jakarta. Prior to meeting Raisa, Sutopo was invited to the Bogor Palace in West Java on Oct. 5 by Jokowi, who gave him a signed picture of the two together.
Both Jokowi and Raisa have expressed their deepest condolences at the passing of Sutopo. "[...] Deep condolences for the passing of Bapak Sutopo PN," Raisa said in her tweet.
Jokowi tweeted a picture of him smiling next to Sutopo, saying: "Life isn't about how long or short it is but how much we can help other people." (dmy)