THE death from asphyxiation of 37 people, triggered by the attack by a lone gunman at the Resorts World Manila Friday, is our worst fire tragedy since 1996 when a conflagration at a disco called Ozone killed 162 people.
It has severely tarnished the country’s image, with reports, mainly pursued by the online news site Rappler and the Doha-based TV al-Jazeera that it was a “lone-wolf” attack by an Islamic State (IS) adherent. Occurring on the heels of the attack on Marawi City by verified IS-linked gunmen, that fake news has had some traction.
If the lone gunman was a jihadist, he certainly wasn’t an adherent of the belief which motivates many such terrorists: that if the mujahid kills an infidel and is killed, he will be rewarded in Paradise with 72 virgins. He shot with his assault rifle not a single person in the hour that he roamed the casino complex unchallenged. Instead, he fired his gun at the ceiling, to scare people away, the usual behavior of bank robbers.
Very strangely, he poured gasoline on the baccarat tables and set them on fire. Is it too far-fetched to believe that he was really pouring his anger on the gambling table where he lost his shirt? This is a strange jihadist, who knew where the casino kept its gambling chips, forced its doors open, and stole the most expensive gambling chips, equivalent to P130 million. I don’t think he believed he could cash the chips in Jannah, Islam’s notion of an after-life heaven.
The attacker was shot, and retreated to a hotel room. It’s not too far-fetched to imagine the following scenario: He realized how stupid his plot to rob the casino was, and decided to kill himself, setting himself on fire with the gasoline he used to scorch the gambling tables, in order to conceal his identity, and save his family from humiliation. Before he died, he certainly didn’t know that there were 37 people killed in the wake of the fire he started.
Professional journalists do not just believe any report they come across. The news site Rappler.com, in its article entitled “ISIS claims Resorts World Manila,” said this was according to the “communique of the ISIS East Asia division”. The news site didn’t find it odd that the “communique” reported that the IS man ”killed and wounded nearly 100 Christian combatants”. The 37 killed at Resorts World of course weren’t combatants, and none of them was even a security guard. They were casino employees and guests, many of whom probably were merely fleeing the heat of the city.
‘Abu Khair al Luzonee’
Rappler’s editor-in-chief Maria Ressa claimed the gunman was an IS adherent named “Abu Khair al Luzonee”. “Al-Luzonee,” as in Luzon island? The lady didn’t get it. (A more credible IS news site is Almasdar News, which even backed up its reports that it was IS-linked groups that attacked Marawi with photos of the fighters, one even showing them raising their rifles atop a destroyed armored personnel carrier.)
That the Resorts World attack was by an IS militant was obviously the kind of fake news one reads every day in Facebook. These over-eager IS social-media activists though are devious: How can the killed gunman deny that he was an IS fighter?
However, the claim that it was an IS attack, is a huge distraction from the task of implementing our laws, and getting justice for the 37 victims, as it serves to cover up Resorts World Manila’s negligence that could even be criminal.
The most obvious instance of negligence is Resorts Worlds’ total failure to stop a man in combat attire with an assault rifle, and carrying two huge sinister-looking military-style duffel bags.. This is a especially huge lapse in security, considering that the metropolis has been on a high security alert status in the wake of reports that the IS-linked groups would attempt an attack in Manila to distract government forces away from Marawi.
The CCTV footage showed the gunman bypassed the metal detector at the entrance. After walking with him asking him to go through the metal detector, the female security guard ran away terrified. What’s the use of a security at the entrances if armed men cannot be stopped there?
Resorts World Manila chief security officer Armeen Gomez claimed that “security personnel attempted to stop him, but the assailant managed to overpower the security.” The CCTV footage shows that he is lying. There was only one security guard at the entrance, an unarmed female. The assailant “overpowered” the female security guard by just staring at her.
Entrances to malls and five-star hotels have typically at least four security people, routinely with sniffer guard dogs. Resorts World had only one unarmed security guard, a female. Was it scrimping on costs?
The attacker doused four gaming tables with gasoline and lit them. Resorts World Manila’s chief operating officer Stephen Reilly claimed that the hotel-casino’s “fire safety equipment worked as it should do and the sprinkler system activated.” The CCTV footage showed no water or fire-extinguishing chemicals showering on the game room nor any other place in the casino complex.
Reilly made an asinine statement: “The issue we actually had was with smoke, not with fire. Unfortunately, those victims suffered from smoke inhalation. There is proper ventilation within the property. Unfortunately, a lot of it was a degree of panic.” Isn’t the function of sprinklers to put out the fire, and with no more fire, there is no more smoke? The 37 victims died because they panicked?
If there were sprinklers, how could smoke have spread so much as to reach even toilets far from the fire, where several victims were found? How on earth were the 37 people killed unable to exit the casino?
Didn’t it have proper exits with brightly lit signs? Could the hotel-casino have been really a fire-trap, with a layout that precluded an orderly swift evacuation in case of a fire, especially since, as Reilly claimed, there were 12,000 guests that tragic night? Aren’t there limits to how many guests a public establishment can have at any one time?
Quite eerily, the CCTV footage showed the gunman throughout the episode calmly and slowly walking, as if he were just a patron in the casino. The gunman entered the casino at 12:11 a.m., and the terrified lone security guard immediately called for help over her radio.
The Resorts World chief security reported that the “security team” found the gunman and exchanged fire with the gunman at 1:10 a.m.. Even with CCTV covering practically every nook and cranny of the complex, it took them one hour to find the gunman? “Exchanged fire?” What the footage showed was that a security guard with an assault rifle was startled and ran away after seeing the gunman, who ran after him but stopped at the doorway, firing.
If the gunman was a terrorist, he would have in that one hour shot everyone he saw, killing more than a hundred “infidels”.
No breach, no tragedy
National Security Adviser Roilo Golez pointed out in his lengthy Facebook post: “The better exercise is to focus on how a gunman with a long assault rifle and a container of gasoline was able to breach the hotel’s security. Without that breach, there would have been no tragedy. Perhaps that crazed man would just have vented his rage somewhere else less deadly.”
All this talk that it was an IS attack is a distraction from what seems to be obvious: It was to a great extent a repeat of the Ozone Disco tragedy in 1996. Because that disco had not enough sprinklers, had defective fire extinguishers, and an exit that swung inward, 162 mostly young people were killed by smoke asphyxiation. That’s roughly what also happened to 37 Resorts World guests and employees.
I thought it was a quantum leap in our justice system under President Ramos’ watch: cases of criminal negligence were filed, and after six years of trial, the president of Westwood Entertainment that operated the disco and its owner were found guilty of criminal negligence by a Quezon City trial court and sentenced to a four-year prison term, and fined P25 million each.
It would be a national shame, and a demonstration that we are a country totally ruled by big business, if there is no thorough investigation to determine whether Resorts World Manila was negligent in its security and fire-response systems that led to the death of 37 people
Pampanga Rep. Aurelio Gonzales Jr, whose wife, Elizabeth, was tragically one of the 37 who perished in the incident, should demand that Congress undertake an investigation, if only to prevent such tragedies due to negligence. If an investigation would lead to laws that would make big businesses extremely punctilious in ensuring their guests’ safety, her death would not be in vain.
Resorts World Manila is a joint venture of property and alcohol billionaire Andrew Tan, Forbes’ magazine’s 10th richest tycoon in the country, and the Malaysian-based Genting Group, mostly owned by Lim Kok Thay, Malaysia’s 6th richest.
For such a tragedy that occurred in his casino, Tan hasn’t even bothered to appear in public, to express condolence to the families of the 37 killed, and apologize for whatever lapses his people may have committed that led to the disaster.
The Duterte administration will be negligent if doesn’t investigate thoroughly how the 37 people were killed, and to seek justice for them if it is proven they died because of Resorts World’s negligence. We have had enough of big businesses washing their hands of whatever damage, death, and tarnishing of the country’s image resulting from their enterprises’ lust for profits, whether these be mining firms, bus companies, and media outfits..