RP NEWS: RW admits security lapses

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“I say there’s lapses in security. When we played the first videos, I pointed out there should have been security personnel posted on certain points and they were not present. We admit openly there were some lapses in security,” Stephen James Reilly said. AP/Bullit Marquez, file

MANILA, Philippines – Lapses in security enabled a gunman to enter Resorts World Manila casino hotel last June 1, terrorizing guests and employees, torching gaming equipment and leaving dozens dead from smoke inhalation, the RWM chief operating officer admitted before a House hearing yesterday.

“I say there’s lapses in security. When we played the first videos, I pointed out there should have been security personnel posted on certain points and they were not present. We admit openly there were some lapses in security,” Stephen James Reilly said.

Three House committees jointly held hearings yesterday on the RWM tragedy that claimed the lives of 37 hotel guests and employees and lone gunman Jessie Carlos.

At the hearing, the lawmakers also found that there was lack of coordination between the hotel’s security personnel and the police at the height of Carlos’ rampage.

Part of the CCTV recording of the incident was presented during the hearing held at the NAIA 3.

One of the hotel guests who died in the incident was the wife of Pampanga Rep. Aurelio Gonzales Jr.

Through a colleague, Gonzales asked why hotel guests who crowded a small pantry on the second floor when Carlos fired shots and torched gambling tables were not told there was an exit nearby through which they could have escaped.

RWM president Kingson Sian said at the time, thick fumes and smoke had already disabled the hotel’s CCTV cameras.

He said hotel personnel manning the CCTV system could no longer see if there were still hotel guests and employees trapped inside “after we have safely evacuated more than 12,000 of them.”

Congressmen noted that while Carlos entered the hotel at about 12:10 a.m., responding policemen pursued him only at past 3 a.m. to a fifth floor hotel room where he shot himself after setting himself aflame.

During the nearly three hours that he roamed the building, no one pursued him, except two hotel security men who engaged him at the basement.

Sian said responding policemen “took over the situation at about 12:30.”

National Capital Region Police Office chief Director Oscar Albayalde said he and other policemen were not informed that the hotel was using two CCTV systems, including a backup network that they could have used to track Carlos.

He maintained that the RWM carnage was a botched robbery attempt on the part of Carlos, reportedly a gambling addict.

Despite this, Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez insisted that what the gunman committed was an act of terrorism.

Sian said his security people provided the police real time information on the location of the gunman because they monitored him through their backup system.

Andrea Domingo, chair of the Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corp. (Pagcor), informed congressmen that RWM had voluntarily suspended gaming operations after the carnage.

Her statement prompted Majority Leader Rodolfo Fariñas to tell her that Pagcor should have been more “proactive” and should have issued a suspension order.

“They voluntarily suspended their operations. That means that they can resume anytime,” he said. Domingo said she is awaiting the results of their own investigation. “By Friday, we will know what punitive actions we will take,” she said.

The House leadership, meanwhile, is contemplating making Congress take over the regulatory powers of Pagcor over casinos.

“Under the leadership of Speaker Alvarez, we will review Republic Act 9487 with the view of amending it and repealing altogether Presidential Decree 1869,” Fariñas said.

The Ilocos Norte congressman pointed out that Pagcor’s mandate should not include granting franchises to casino operators on the basis that it has complete regulatory powers over them.

“Gambling is prohibited here, but by a presidential decree, the power was delegated to Pagcor to have the sole authority to authorize, license, regulate gambling. That should not be allowed. That should only be a congressional grant of franchise,” Fariñas said.

The House official suggested that gambling operators obtain their licenses instead from the House of Representatives, just like other huge companies.

The Marcos decree laid out Pagcor’s charter while the Arroyo administration’s RA 9487 in 2007 extended Pagcor’s franchise for another 25 years and gave it the power to operate and issue license to casino and similar gaming and entertainment clubs nationwide.

The Resorts World incident also killed Cliff “Bobby” Reynera, consultant of Malabon City Rep. Ricky Sandoval.

Sen. Grace Poe, meanwhile, called on Pagcor to suspend the issuance of permits or franchises to new casinos until security protocols and programs to address gambling addiction are improved.

“I believe that we should have a limit in issuing permits or have a moratorium and evaluate the cost and benefits of having many casinos,” Poe told the Kapihan sa Manila Bay forum.

“We have to consider not only the financial and economic benefits but also the social and cultural implications, like broken families, crimes,” she said.

She said Pagcor and casino operators should implement “what responsible gaming is really all about.”

The senator also asked authorities to push for a review of security procedures for casinos and gaming establishments.

Poe, who is also vice-chair of the Senate committee on public order and dangerous drugs, said there should be clear-cut guidelines in both private and government establishments for addressing incidents like the one that transpired at RWM.

“I think what we need to pick up from this is how our security protocols are, both in private establishments as well as public spaces,” she pointed out.

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