Gambling with lives
It’s incredible that in a place devoted to scads of money being won and lost, no one is in “command and control” of security. But this was the reported finding of an inquiry into the possible security lapses at Resorts World Manila, scene of a horrific attack by a man with a gun where 38 people including himself died on June 2.
Apart from there being “no ground commander,” there was also no “emergency response team” that could have prevented the gunman, the down-on-his-luck gambler Jessie Carlos, from torching the gaming tables, which caused the fire that led to the deaths — from suffocation and smoke inhalation — of most of the victims. “They waited for the PNP. But what if the PNP station is far away? Who will now react?” said Chief Supt. Jose Mario Espino, leader of the Philippine National Police-Supervisory Office for Security and Investigation Agencies that conducted the inquiry.
That there was only one roving guard at the time of Carlos’ major meltdown is another damning finding, apparently a result of “the scaling down of personnel,” Espino said.
The confluence of events resulted in a tragic occurrence: Armed with an assault rifle, Carlos arrived at RWM past midnight, made his entry despite an unarmed female guard’s remonstrations, proceeded to steal gaming chips worth millions of pesos and, almost leisurely, to douse gaming tables with gasoline he had brought and to set them ablaze. He exchanged fire with guards and policemen and shot several rounds into the air, and later made his way to a hotel room where he killed himself.
In the aftermath, “Why did so many die?” was the poignant question raised by Pampanga Rep. Aurelio Gonzales Jr., whose wife Elizabeth was among those who perished. Even with over 12,000 patrons and employees evacuated from the complex, 37 others died — 37 too many, among them young people employed by RWM, leaving their families in grief and anguish. This is unpardonable; accountability should be swiftly pinpointed and the creaky wheels of justice set into motion.
The general public, including the bereaved families, are still wondering how such an incident could transpire in this popular casino complex where people also go to celebrate special occasions, hold meetings, or watch musicales and other shows. There is a sudden shattering of the sense of comfort and security, leaving a public on edge. The costs in terms of damage and lost tourism and other revenues have yet to be figured out.
Meanwhile, the shuttered RWM has been served a “cease and desist” order by Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corp. All its operations are on hold “pending investigation and final determination” of its “compliance with all security, safety and gaming operations requirements,” according to Pagcor. The Department of Tourism is now reviewing its accreditation process for hotels, restaurants and similar establishments.
But all these are predictable measures, generally taken when a tragedy jolts society at large and forces itself to take stock of what has become routine. And there’s the elephant looming in the room: the issue of gambling addiction and how it has brought many Filipinos, male and female, to ruin. (Recall the stories, told in whispers, of car keys and land titles surrendered to pay off gambling debts, and whole families destroyed by addicted members.)
The government-enabled gaming industry cannot escape liability for making it so easy for Filipinos to part with their money and eventually squander their life and those of their family members in these perfumed temples where day turns into night and back unbeknownst to those who haunt them. In other countries—for example, Singapore—the government makes it difficult for ordinary citizens to get into state casinos because the entrance costs are prohibitive.
And something also has to be said about a culture that encourages gambling whether in slick city centers or hick towns. Surely the gambling revenues supposedly used by the state to fund charity projects and such can be found elsewhere.
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