Resorts World Manila says it's ready to resume operations

This image made from closed circuit television made available by the Philippine National Police on Friday, June 2, 2017, shows the gunman at the Resorts World Manila complex in Manila, Philippines.
PHOTO: The Star/ Asia News Network

MANILA - Three weeks after a gunman set fire to its casino in an attack that cost 37 lives, Resorts World Manila has told authorities that it is ready to resume its operations.

Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corp. (Pagcor) Chairman Andrea Domingo told lawmakers that RWM president Kingson Sian has sought the lifting of the suspension of its license.

But before taking action, Pagcor would issue first a checklist "for a secure and safe environment" that RWM would have to comply with, Domingo said during the last stretch of the House of Representatives' inquiry into the June 2 arson and attempted robbery by bankrupt gambler Jessie Carlos.

RWM also informed Pagcor that it would no longer use the second floor of its Pasay City establishment, where most of the patrons and employees died of smoke inhalation, for casino operations.

The probe had zeroed in on proposals to restrict access to casinos and improve security coordination after debt-ridden gambling addict Carlos, a former Department of Finance employee faced with various

lawsuits, apparently opened fire to scare away patrons and torched the gaming tables.

Domingo, however, cautioned against the "negative effect" of imposing a P3,000 (S$83) entrance fee, saying it would "wipe out the whole mass market."

Isabela 1st Dist. Rep. Rodolfo Albano III, who pitched the casino entrance fee, inadvertently let it slip that he has gambled in casinos too despite being an elected government official.

Domingo said Pagcor has been charging a P100 entrance fee for its licensed casinos, but Albano was incredulous. "I was never charged P100 when I go to the casino. Is that a thing?" he said.

When the Pagcor chair said "congressmen might be barred from playing," Albano said: "We're not barred from playing because the people have elected us already."

"The people know the ones they vote for sometimes gamble too. What's not allowed are the unelected civil servants," he said, adding that "we were not addicted anyway."

However, Section 14 (4) of Presidential Decree No. 1869, or the Pagcor charter, includes "government officials connected directly with the operation of the Government or any of its agencies" among those not allowed to play in casinos.

House games and amusements committee chairman Rep. Gus Tambunting declined to comment when later asked by reporters about Albano's interpretation of the law, only saying that "personally, I do not gamble."

Gunman fired shots inside a casino, killed himself

  • "The lone gunman is already neutralised. He is dead. He burned himself inside the hotel room," police chief Ronald Dela Rosa told reporters outside.
  • "He lay down on the bed, covered himself with a thick blanket, apparently poured petrol on the blanket and burned himself."
  • Mr De la Rosa made the comments about an hour after claiming in a television interview that police had shot the gunman dead.
  • Officials said at least 54 people were hurt, some seriously, as they rushed to escape what at first had been feared as a militant attack.
  • Ms 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.
  • Gunshots rang out at an upscale hotel and casino complex in Manila early on Friday (June 2) morning in what was initially suspected as a terrorist attack, but later dismissed by security officials as an attempted robbery.
  • Thousands flooded out of Resorts World Manila, near the country's main airport and an air force base, just after midnight, after they heard a staccato of gunfire, and saw a fire broke out at the second floor of the casino.
  • Witnesses interviewed on radio said they saw armed men with blackened faces firing guns and burning a table.
  • But Director-General Ronald de la Rosa later told reporters police were looking for just one gunman who likely had intended to rob the casino.
  • He said CCTV footage showed the suspect, whom he described as tall and "caucasian-looking", park his vehicle at the second floor of the parking area. He then made his way to the casino, carrying an M4 assault rifle, lugging a backpack and with a bonnet on his head.
  • The man afterwards fired at a TV, poured gasoline on a table, lit it up, and then fired at the door leading to a storage area for casino chips. He then loaded his backpack with chips, mostly with a value of 1 million pesos (S$27,900) each, and then attempted to escape.
  • Mr De la Rosa told DZMM radio the lone gunman had not aimed his assault rifle at people at the Resorts World Manila entertainment complex during the hours-long drama that began shortly after midnight.
  • Ms Kimberly Molitas, a spokeswoman for the capital's police office, said 113 million Philippine pesos (S$3 million) worth of casino chips stolen during the raid had been recovered.
  • "Please help pray for the injured and the loss of lives due to suffocation," she said in a message to reporters.
  • "We can't establish the motive as in line with terrorism. He may have just lost his mind. He may be mad at the casino. He may've lost a lot of money," said Mr De la Rosa.
  • He added: "It's too early to tell, but as far as we are concerned there's no indication that this is the work of ISIS (Islamic State in Iraq and Syria). If it was, he would have gunned down people who were gambling, or set off a bomb. But he did not hurt anyone. Those reported hurt were due to smoke inhalation, and injuries from the stampede."
  • He said in one CCTV clip, the man was seen removing his bonnet and was revealed to be "caucasian-looking".
  • Unverified posts on the social media app Telegram said "lone wolf soldiers of the Khilafah attack the heart of the Kufar in Manila".
  • The Site Intelligence Group, which monitors terrorist networks, was then quoted by Agence France-Presse as saying it was an ISIS attack.
  • Mr De la Rosa said these claims were "nothing more than propaganda".
  • Regardless, the incident stoked fears of a terrorist attack, amid days-long clashes between government troops and Muslim militants in a key southern city.
  • Mr Julio Silva, 62, a casino player, said in a radio interview he hid inside a toilet for 30 minutes after he heard gunshots.
  • He said "there was smoke all around" and it was "very dark" when he stepped out of the toilet. A rescue team later found him.

Tambunting's observations

The legislative inquiry was terminated on Wednesday afternoon after three hearings. Tambunting told reporters that the committee report may be done "early next week at most."

In his closing remarks, Tambunting raised the following observations about the inquiry's findings:

The assailant was able to gain access into the casino with minimum effort and without any challenge from the RWM security personnel, which "speaks a lot about the quality of security preparedness."

There was a lack of clear protocols for coordination between RWM and the authorities, as well as among the first responders such as the Philippine National Police and the Bureau of Fire Protection. Tambunting said this was "one of the proximate causes" of the suffocation of the victims.

Questions of jurisdiction have complicated the enforcement of laws.

"What if this was an actual terrorist attack which was well planned and aimed at exacting maximum casualties and damage? Obviously, things could have been much worse," Tambunting said.