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No security at all

For the past two weeks, the House of Representatives conducted marathon public hearings on the June 2 attack by a crazed gunman who tried to burn down the casinos of the Resorts World (RWM) Manila. The House hearings have been trying to go through with fine-toothed-comb their inquiry in aid of legislation on the security aspects of the incident that killed 38 guests of RWM, including the gunman who set himself into flame.

Although both chambers of the 17th Congress are in recess, the House leadership approved the investigation into the RWM incident by the House committees on games and amusement chaired by Rep. Gus Tambunting and on public safety headed by Rep. Romeo Acop.

Armed with an automatic weapon, disgruntled casino addict Jessie Javier Carlos barged into the casino hotel on the wee hours of that fateful day. The CCTV recording of the incident showed Carlos was shooting indiscriminately and torching casino tables and equipment. Except a burnt Carlos who died from gunshot wound to his head, all casualties autopsied were found to have succumbed to smoke inhalation.

From subsequent police investigations, Carlos had been in the list of Philippine Amusement Gaming Corp. (Pagcor) casino addicts banned from entry into any gaming entities like those of RWM. Authorities explained this ban perhaps triggered Carlos to barge into RWM with guns and petrol to burn down the casino in retaliation.

Testifying at the House hearings, RWM’s chief operating officer Stephen Reilly conceded there have been lapses in the security arrangements. Hotel president Kingson Sian, for his part, told the House hearing the internal security personnel of RWM came to discover the bodies of the 37 casualties only after the incident.

When they reviewed CCTV footage, Sian said the CCTV showed them running to the pantry at the height of Carlos’ rampage. But it was too late to save them. They were found trapped instead and died from toxic fumes and smoke.

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The CCTV footages played at the House hearing also showed there was a brief “mis-encounter” shootout between responding policemen and the security personnel of both in-house and its private security contractor while nobody knew if Carlos acted alone or not.

While piecing together how RWM security personnel mishandled the situation, survivors of the incident lament how lawmakers ignore those still reliving their trauma.

Casino patron Luchie Aclan Arguelles echoed such laments that many survivors like them were left un-attended to recover from their own traumatic experience. Arguelles, a retired journalist, earlier posted in her Facebook account an eyewitness account how she and her husband personally saw the gunman set in flames the baccarat tables at the Prosperity Court at the second floor of the casino.

With presence of mind, the couple escaped unscathed from the horrific attack but apparently emotionally and psychologically scarred. Two weeks after the incident, Arguelles wrote again at her Facebook to share how she is trying to cope with the trauma while lawmakers argue about security lapses. With her permission to reprint her post, let’s read her thoughts:

“FIRST THINGS FIRST. More than gambling addiction, the focus should be on PTSD, or post-traumatic stress disorder. Most of those caught in the middle of the unfortunate June 2 Resorts World experience remain overwrought. Others are still mired in deep emotional and psychological struggle: to forget or to move on. It’s a case of fight or flight as an instinctive reaction to protect oneself. Up to when?

According to RW executives, there were around 12,000 guests and hundreds of employees there at that fateful moment.

Nights following that harrowing instance, I myself went through sleepless nights. Shunning the thought while awake, the incident was replayed in my sub-conscious, in my dreams with lots of WHAT IFS.

At that very time this was happening, I kept telling myself to keep calm, have presence of mind, and to focus as my septuagenarian husband was my concern, to look after his safety more than mine.

It dawned on me that what I am going through is an after-effect. This triggered my sleepless nights and asthma attack.

It is my husband Cholo’s turn to be protective of me and prodded me to “go out” and “enjoy”. Since we have Balikbayans still in town, yes, we had been to Okada and Solaire. But there, I get to meet RW “classmates.” (The casinos were referred to as “school” as most are “regular attendees.”) They keep asking me of what I witnessed as most of them were either in the first or third floors. It may be a therapy to talk or write about this yet I still get goosebumps when I do.

It is disheartening to note that, unfortunately, 37 died. We know they are ‘in peace’ now and their surviving families will be fairly compensated in due time. Those who survived bear the brunt.

And while Congress and other pundits focus on therapeutic assistance for gambling addicts, how about parallel victims of the consequential trauma? They may have outlived those who perished but the disquieting, unnerving memory lives on… only for a while, I hope.”

Uniformed security guards are also supposed to be the best guides – if there is no concierge or information desk for guests – to give directions, especially during emergency situations like the RWM incident. During normal times though, customers rely upon security guards to help them locate where specific stores, restaurants, and other establishments, especially around big malls.

That I did last week while I was trying to find my way to a restaurant named “Cerviseria” at the ground floor of Greenbelt-3. By habit, the security guard assigned at the front lobby would be the first one I would ask for direction.

Asked where could I find “Cerviseria” Restaurant, the security guard repeated the name and pointed to the direction telling me: “That’s the service area.”

I restrained myself from laughing. Knowing the futility of pressing for direction, I just moved on. Seeing another security guard, I asked the same question in Tagalog: “Kuya, saan ba dito ang Cerveseria restaurant?” And to my dismay, the second guard also either misheard or misunderstood me asking for the “service area.”

This harmless boo-boo might be amusing. But where our safety and lives are concerned, it would be tragic if establishments employ poorly trained, under-equipped and lowly paid security guards. It’s no security at all.

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