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HOTEL-CASINO ATTACKED; GUNMAN, SOLON'S WIFE, 33 DIE OF SUFFOCATION

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By CLAIRE MORALES TRUE and ALFRED GABOT

 

(Photo from Manila Bulletin)

 

PASAY CITY (via PhilAmPress) — Just as the Philippines was reeling from the terrorists’ siege of Marawi City in which more than 100 have been killed, a man, armed with high-powered weapons, set parts of the ritzy Resorts World Manila hotel casino complex infront of the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA) terminal 3 resulting to the suffocation to death of 37 guests, tourists and employees before he killed himself.

 

Among those killed were the wife of Rep. Aurelio Gonzales of Pampanga and the businessman-husband of former actress Azenith Briones who now plans to sue the Resorts World and some foreign guests who suffocated to death as they escaped the smoke inside the hotel-casino comfort rooms.

 

More than 70 others were also wounded as people panicked with the lapse of security and the failure of the Resorts World Manila officials to control the crowd while many claimed that the fire sprinklers did not work or were not enough for a big business establishment such as the hotel-casino and that there was no proper signages for the fire exits. Many also panicked due to alleged misinformation that there were many armed attackers.

 

The incident triggered a Congressional probe which opened on June 7 in the House of Representatives even as the government casino regulator, the Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corp., started its own probe and looking into the possible revocation of the license of Resorts World Manila even as the hotel-casino suspended its operations for at least two weeks.

On June 9, after being grilled at the Congress investigation, PAGCOR suspended the Provisional License granted to Travellers International Hotel Group to operate casinos and other gaming facilities under the business name of RWM, following the June 2 arson spree by a lone gunman that left 38 people dead.

 

The hotel casino resort, through RWM Chief Operating Officer Stephen Reilly, vowed it would do everything to “regain people’s trust after the tragic incident last week.”

 

In a statement, the state gaming regulator ordered RWM to “cease and desist all gaming operations while investigation on its liability regarding the June 2 incident is ongoing.”

 

The suspension will remain, PAGCOR said, “until RWM rectifies its serious security lapses and deficiencies – which caused not only the loss of lives and damaged properties – but also placed the Philippine gaming, tourism and hospitality industries in bad light.”

 

Later, the RWM announced it had engaged the service of noted international security experts in order to review and address the gaps that made it possible for lone gunman Jessie Carlos to enter the hotel and torch gaming tables and slot machines on the second floor, before killing himself following suspension of Lanting Security Agency guards of the hotel casino resort by the Philippine National Police.

 

PAGCOR said non-compliance with its cease-and-desist order shall invite other sanctions as may be warranted under existing laws.

 

The incident reached the White House initially as a possible terrorist act prompting US President Donald Trump, the US State Department and the US Embassy in Manila to expressed sympathy and condolences with the kin and friends of the victims. 

According to government records, Resorts World Manila, developed and operated by Travellers International Hotel Group Inc., is a joint venture of the Alliance Global Inc. – the holding firm of Filipino business tycoon Andrew Tan, one of the wealthiest Filipinos, and Genting Hong Kong Limited. According to disclosures on the Philippine Stock Exchange, Resorts World Manila's foreign market includes company members from the United States, Korea, Malaysia, and China. In 2016, the company raked in a net revenue of P25.09 billion, P23.65 billion of which was attributed to gaming operations.

 

Police investigators identified the gunman who set some gaming tables, rugs and other areas in the hotel-casino ablaze as Jessie Carlos, a former government employee who has been banned from the casino. Carlos was identified by his former wife and parents who said they were sorry for what Carlos had done.

 

Carlos stormed the Resorts World Manila last June 2 with his weapons and gasoline containers, fired his guns but was not immediately subdued by RSW security officers. There was no designated person to handle the security situation as Carlos took casino chips worth more than P100 million and went amuck, according to investigators led by Philippine National Police-Supervisory Office for Security and Investigation Agencies (PNP-SOSIA) head Chief Supt. Jose Mario Espino.

 

Thirty seven of those killed apparently died of smoke inhalation, with Carlos escaping to the fifth floor of the hotel where he forcibly opened a room and set himself on fire and shot himself.

 

Espino said this was the initial findings of their investigation which was convened to look into the liability of N.C. Lanting Security Specialist Agency, the firm which provided the security guards to RWM.

 

It was also found out that RWM has its own in-house security team tasked to guard the casino but these individuals are not covered by the PNP-SOSIA investigation.

 

Espino said the guards provided by N. C. Lanting Security Specialist Agency were tasked to secure fixed points in the parking area, RWM entrances and exits, with just one roving watchman for the adjoining mall area, and no provisions for a quick reaction team.

 

All these guards are operating alone during the time of the incident.

 

The PNP-SOSIA chief said the incident highlighted RWM's reliance on the police for possible emergency situations.

 

Espino added that a review indicated that RWM's security had no command-and-control during the incident which could give responding police officers a picture on what was happening.

 

"The Chief PNP (Director General Ronald 'Bato' Dela Rosa) was waiting (to know) what was happening but no one could tell him immediately. There was no ground commander,” he stressed.

 

Espino added that Dela Rosa was told that everybody was evacuated but later events showed that many people, almost all of the fatalities, were left behind.

 

He also reminded malls and hotels not to cut down on their security detail.

 

Espino said security guards should always "operate on a buddy system” or in pairs.

 

National Capital Region Police Office (NCRPO) chief Director Oscar Albayalde said that the police is continuing its investigation on the incident.

 

Many of the victims including 22  employees were trapped in the comfort rooms of the casino area located at the second floor of Resorts World Manila. It turned out that they were only a few meters away from the fire exit which they could have used to escape but there was no one to assist them, thus they suffocated to death.

 

Those injured were brought to San Juan de Dios Hospital, Pasay General Hospital, Villamor Hospital and St. Luke's Medical Center.

 

PNP chief Dela Rosa said a security guard accidentally shot himself after panicking during the incident.

 

"'Yung isang gunshot wound na nadala sa hospital, 'yan 'yung security guard na nabaril niya sarili niya—accidental. Nabaril niya eh. Nag-panic na doon kanina," Dela Rosa said.

 

Resorts World Manila Chief Operating Officer Stephen Reilly assured assistance to all victims, promising at least P1 million to each of them and their families.

 

President Trump initially called the casino  incident a "terrorist attack" but officials later corrected it.

 

"I would like to begin by addressing the terrorist attack in Manila," Trump said at the start of his speech. "It is really very sad as to what's going on throughout the world with terror. Our thoughts and our prayers are with all of those affected," Trump said as he prepared to announce his plan to withdraw from the Paris climate agreement.


Many of the dead suffocated in the chaos as guests and staff tried to flee choking smoke at the hotel casino complex.

 

"Even the security personnel panicked. Maybe because of the heavy firearm, they can't put up a fight so they prioritized life and safety," said Jeff Santos, a high roller at Resorts World Manila. "Definitely us patrons we did not expect that, everyone ran away."

 

Jeri Ann Santiago, who works in the emergency room at the San Juan de Dios hospital, said patients were suffering the effects of smoke inhalation and some had injuries such as fractures. None had gunshot wounds, she said.

 

Kimberly Molitas, PNP NCRPO spokeswoman, said P113 million ($2.27 million) worth of casino chips stolen during the raid had been recovered.

 

The Philippines has been on heightened alert amid a crisis in Marawi City have been battling Islamist rebels since May 23.

 

President Rodrigo Duterte declared martial law on Mindanao last week and has warned it could become a haven for supporters fleeing Iraq and Syria.

 

The U.S. embassy in Manila told Americans there to exercise caution and to review their personal security.

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