When gunshots were heard and smoke was seen billowing around the Resorts World casino complex just after midnight of June 2, many feared the worst. People were still reeling from the surprise siege of Marawi City by the extremist Maute group, and martial law had been freshly declared in the region. The reputation of Resorts World as a tourist haven added more fuel to the speculation of a terror attack. The SITE Intelligence Group reported that ISIS has claimed responsibility, and even US President Donald Trump called it an act of terrorism.
When the smoke cleared, the perpetrator turned out to be a former employee of the Department of Finance who was buried in debt from a chronic gambling addiction. While officials tried to allay fears related to national security and terrorism, the attack nevertheless left dozens dead and raised other serious issues.
For one, it bared just how vulnerable to acts of violence a place like Resorts World could be—even though it is a private upscale establishment in the middle of a high-traffic commercial district that is a stone’s throw away from the country’s primary airport. Regardless of the perpetrator—organized terrorist or a mentally deranged lone wolf—the attack underscored a dire lapse in security in what is supposed to be a safe enclave. If a place like Resorts World can be exposed like this, what can we expect from the other less-equipped establishments?
Some were reminded of the 1996 Ozone Disco tragedy, which killed more than a hundred people, many of them fresh graduates. Serious fire safety lapses were discovered in the aftermath: insufficient sprinklers, malfunctioning fire extinguishers, and an exit that became a trapdoor. The case of criminal negligence was eventually proven in court, and the president and owner of the disco operator were sentenced to four years in prison and a P25-million fine.
We seem to be back to square one with Resorts World. In this case, it puts to serious question the capability of security agencies to handle similar threats. CCTV footage revealed that what stood between the gunman and the casino was an unarmed female security guard who tried in vain to stop him from entering the premises without passing through the metal detector. And when that failed, it was every man for himself.
Consider, too, that this assailant made no effort to conceal his intentions. He was in combat attire and carried two military-style duffle bags. There is thus a drastic need to retrain and retool security personnel—to the level of Special Action Forces, some say. Personnel need to have adequate training and tools to effectively respond to this level of violence. Protocols regarding coordination with authorities like the police have to be revisited.
Also, while many breathed a sigh of relief that it wasn’t a terrorist act, an often unseen scourge was also revealed: Gambling addiction. While the Duterte administration’s campaign against illegal drugs had achieved a certain level of notoriety, other forms of addiction had fallen by the wayside, receiving little attention.
The Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corp., which is on one hand tasked to promote legal gambling as a source of government revenues, must likewise take itself to task in attending to the social repercussions of the activity, from harmless addiction to the mental troubles it can instigate. The issue of casino loan sharks operating in all casinos, preying on gamblers and capitalizing on addiction, must be stopped. This nefarious partnership with casino employees is akin to the drug pushing business exploiting its victims with the intoxication of gambling as hallucinogen.
In these issues, Pagcor as both regulator and operator bears the onus of assessing the adequacy of its policies and, if they are in place, if such regulations are being capably implemented and enforced.
While many of the deaths in the Resorts World attack were due to suffocation, yet another big question is how the assailant came to be in possession of an M4 rifle, a high-power assault weapon. This merits a thorough investigation that may expose an even scarier weapon syndicate operating beyond the reach of our police authorities.
Thinkers warn of the economic fallout we may suffer from the disturbing images of Resorts World and Marawi. These might lead to a double black-eye to our national reputation that will cause investors and tourists to bypass the Philippines.
Unfortunately, in the backdrop of all these issues is a new world order of extremism and violence that we must live in. Because news and social media are perpetually saturated with reports and images of terrorist acts, entities like ISIS has successfully embedded themselves in our consciousness. The ongoing battle of Marawi is a painful confirmation that terrorists have arrived. We need to heighten our awareness, be vigilant and know how to act when the time comes.