Back in Manila – And Resorts World Is Manila in a Nutshell

I know, I’m way overdue for a post. I’m back from two weeks in Hong Kong, where most of my time and energy was devoted to my job search, as well as time spent preparing to shut down my department and hand off our responsibilities to people in the U.S. The job search went about as expected – roughly 20 meetings, all of which were pleasant but none of which yielded anything substantial. I tell myself it’s early days and that I still have a job for four months. I’m trying to stay focused and positive. I’ve also put together the beginnings of a “Plan B” and a “nuclear option.”

While I was in Hong Kong, the June 2nd tragedy at Resorts World was unfolding. Initial reports said it might be terrorism (Trump picked up on that and mentioned it in a speech – within hours of the occurrence, even though it had taken him 72 hours to mention the two men killed in Oregon protecting a Muslim citizen from a hate crime). Bear in mind that this wasn’t that long after Duterte declared martial law in Mindanao. All sorts of theories started bouncing around –  not the least of which was that if this really was a terrorist attack, Duterte might declare martial law nationwide.

Last and in this case definitely least, the casino is located directly across the street from NAIA Terminal 3 and this happened just two days before my return flight to Manila.

Finally it became clear that this was a lone lunatic, someone who reportedly was out of work and addicted to gambling, getting some bizarre kind of revenge.

As one reads through the subsequent reports, there are more questions than answers. This is a huge casino/hotel/shopping complex. It should have world class security. Yet the gunman was able to get out of a taxi and enter the complex even though he had a rifle in a backpack and a soda bottle filled with gasoline.

Anyone who lives here knows why that could happen. Every office building, every shopping mall, every major hotel has a security check in front. There are long lines at the entrance waiting to go through this security check. If you’re carrying a bag, they will just open one pocket (no matter how many there are) to look inside. They might pat you once on the back. You walk through a metal detector which beeps for every fucking person who walks through. Let me quote from this article by Paolo Enrico Melendez that ironically appeared in Rogue magazine just a couple of weeks prior to this nightmare.

For years, we as a people have accepted the bag search as an everyday fact of life. We are resigned to the idea that entering commercial centers and mass public transportation always involves some guy idly rifling through our things. It may as well be an admission of collective guilt: by giving in to this inspection, it’s as if we are saying that we cannot be trusted, and that we deserve to be treated with suspicion when we’re just going out for groceries.

This is all, at its core, just security theater. Nobody in their right mind could claim that these bag searches effectively stop someone from bringing in a dangerous object into our public spaces. For this to really work, security personnel would have to search every nook and cranny of a bag, and ask people to open every sealed package that they have with them, like a tin of Altoids, for instance, for fear of what could be hidden inside it. The logic behind this is that the appearance of security, no matter how perfunctory, is enough of a deterrent to keep these places safe.

….

It is just frustrating that the onus of security has been placed on the people these methods are meant to protect. They may seem like minor inconveniences, but one cannot discount the conditioning that they represent, and the abdication of responsibility from those paid to ensure our security. It is a big show of doing something without really being effective at all. Meanwhile, people are being treated like criminals on a daily basis, the contents of their bags subject to the scrutiny of strangers, little bits of their lives on display. Contrary to popular belief, the Filipino is not a criminal, and we all deserve better from those that claim to keep us safe.

So we really know how the guy got in. A bargain basement “security check” that couldn’t catch a pocket knife or a pistol, a pretense meant to maximize profits and minimize costs, probably staffed by under-trained minimum wage employees of a third party company. This is what happens everywhere in Manila. But he entered the casino area with his rifle on full display. How did that happen?

And the story gets worse. This guy had a rifle but he wasn’t shooting anyone. He poured his bottle of gasoline and set some tables on fire. Should that have resulted in almost 40 deaths and more than 50 people hospitalized? Of course not.

Apparently the sprinkler system wasn’t working. A 5 star luxury destination, a casino that’s probably swimming in money, and the sprinkler system wasn’t working. How does that happen? How are there not regular inspections and maintenance and tests?

However, Resorts World President Kingson Sian said that the people died because they were afraid to come out from “their hiding places” and get caught in the crossfire between the security guards and the lone gun man. He further points out that they were able to evacuate over 12,000 people.

(the current home page for the Resorts World web site – interestingly enough this opens over their standard “book a room” now page rather than replacing it.)

Duterte wants to know why there weren’t more fire exits while the PNP is saying that Resorts World had no emergency response team, just guards at fixed posts who had no idea how to respond if there was an emergency. And despite being a 24 hour business, and a casino at that, they routinely had far less people on duty after midnight, with just a single guard posted at the front entrance.

Resorts World has said that they will pay 1 million pesos to the families of those killed in the attack. That’s US$20,000. It seems to me they are getting off cheap.

But wait, the story is far from over. Now it’s getting really weird, aka Philippines weird. They’ve found a way to blame all of this on Leila de Lima. If the name doesn’t ring a bell, de Lima is the 57 year old former head of the Philippine Commission on Human Rights, Secretary of the Department of Justice and current senator – currently in jail awaiting trial at some unspecified date because either she was the queen of all drug dealers, controlling the drug trade inside the country’s largest prison, while also having sex with her much younger chauffeur, or she is one of the few people in authority who openly challenged Duterte and his war on drugs. (Amnesty International regards her as a political prisoner of conscience.)

You see, the casinos fall under the jurisdiction of PEZA – Philippine Economic Zone Authority. And they are the ones who enforce fire safety standards within their zones rather than the Bureau of Fire Protection (BFP). You see, back in 2014, de Lima wrote an opinion upholding the 1995 Special Economic Zone Act which granted PEZA this authority. And now current Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II has said that if she hadn’t written that opinion, then the BFP would have been enforcing fire standards instead of PEZA, and presumably no one would have died.

Meanwhile Speaker of the House Pantaleon Alvarez, for reasons known perhaps only to himself, continues to insist this was not a robbery, it was a terror attack.

Fortunately this is not the last word on this tragedy. The National Bureau of Investigations (NBI) is continuing to look into this.

But this is the Philippines in a nutshell. Incompetence, corruption, greed. An avoidable tragedy. Basic safety rules not being followed. Doing what’s cheap instead of what’s good. Everybody pointing their fingers at everyone else. And the largest casino in the country – a freaking casino making how many billions per year that had a badly trained skeleton security staff and possibly broken fire safety systems – is hoping to get out of all of this by paying out a total of US$740,000. (And for all I know they will.)

It’s a damned shame is what it is. I’ll keep following this story. I’ll be surprised if justice is served when it’s over.