House digs deeper

                                                   Into Resort World tragedy
8 June 2017 The House committees on public order and security, on games and amusement, and on tourism convened Wednesday for a joint motu proprio inquiry, in aid of legislation, into the circumstances surrounding the Resorts World Manila (RWM) incident last June 1 which claimed the lives of 37 people and injured 78 others.
House Speaker Pantaleon D. Alvarez (1st District, Davao del Norte), Majority Leader Rodolfo C. Fariñas (1st District, Ilocos Norte), and the chairpersons of the committees, namely Rep. Romeo M. Acop (2nd District, Antipolo City) of the committee on public order and security, Rep. Gus S. Tambunting (2nd District, Parañaque City) of the committee on games and amusements, and Rep. Lucy T. Gomez (4th District, Leyte) of the committee on tourism led the grueling 11-hour investigation.
The probe aims to determine the security and safety lapses, how similar incidents can be avoided in the future, and the corresponding legislation Congress can introduce to strengthen the country’s security protocols.
Among the significant issues raised and noted by the lawmakers during the inquiry were: RWM’s apparent disregard of the advisory issued by the Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corporation (PAGCOR); the obvious lapses in coordination between security personnel of RWM and government security forces; conflicting provisions of two laws which seriously affect the fire prevention integrity of buildings within ecozones; and the evident lack of proper equipment of government security and safety personnel which hinders the effective performance of their mandates.
During PAGCOR chairperson Andrea Domingo’s briefing, it was learned that despite the advisory she issued on security strengthening in light of the ongoing Marawi terrorist attack, RWM seemed to have ignored the advisory and failed to reinforce its security.
Alvarez advised her that as RWM’s regulator, their ongoing investigation must also focus on franchise violations that RWM may have committed which could warrant the revocation of the establishment’s franchise.
During the briefing of the  Philippine National Police (PNP) and the RWM Safety, Security and Surveillance Office’s, it was revealed that the main reason why coordination was sloppy and not given in real time was because the information on and access to a remote CCTV site located in Remington Hotel was not given to the police as soon as the law enforcers took over the RWM situation.
It was only when PNP Chief Director-General Ronald “Bato” dela Rosa arrived at the scene a few hours after the incident started that such information was given to the police.
The three committees strongly and unanimously believe that had the PNP been given access to the other CCTV monitoring site and there was cooperation of RWM’s expert CCTV personnel, things could have ended differently and would have led to the earlier subjugation of the gunman.
The lawmakers cited that the PNP has tactical awareness on what should be done.
The lawmakers also noted during the presentation of the CCTV footage of the RWM incident the evident ineffectiveness of RWM security personnel to handle the situation as they were running around and abandoning their respective posts. The lawmakers likewise cited how ill-equipped the RWM security personnel were in apprehending just a single gunman.
The House leaders emphasized that if the RWM security personnel failed to handle well a lone assailant who entered the establishment, what more if a bigger and more organized group entered RWM with such  lax security.
 Meanwhile, through the questions raised by Acop, a lawyer and former chief of the PNP-Criminal Investigation and Detection Group (CIDG), the educational  background of RWM’s chief security officer Armeen Gomez was unraveled. The lawmakers believe this was the reason for Gomez’s inadequacy to handle such situation.
Initially, Gomez was reluctant to provide information on his education background until Alvarez warned that he could be cited for contempt and detained for not cooperating with the lawmakers.
The conflicting provisions of the “Philippine Economic Zone Authority (PEZA) Act of 1995” or Republic Act 7916, as amended by RA 8748, and the Revised Fire Code Act of 2008 were also raised during the hearing with PEZA Director General Charito Plaza insisting that fire inspection and management of establishments within the ecozones fall under their jurisdiction.
This position resulted in several similar incidents in the past wherein the BFP was not allowed access to ecozones during fire incidents and during inspection of fire code compliance. The BFP acknowledged being in a bind on how to address the situation.
The lawmakers believe that had the BFP been given access to inspect RWM’ building’s fire compliance, then the establishment’s absence or lack of fire prevention systems could have been foreseen and addressed.
Rep. Winston Castelo (2nd District, Quezon City) said had the RWM’s smoke extractor system been operational, sufficient, and compliant with the National Building Code, then most of the victims would not have died of asphyxiation.
Rep. Rozanno Rufino B. Biazon (Lone District, Muntinlupa City) maintained that the fire code is a newer law and clearly supersedes the older PEZA law. He said PEZA’s belief may have been misplaced and overstretched its mandate. He then sought a review of the “Revised Fire Code Act of 2008” and the “Philippine Economic Zone Authority (PEZA) Act of 1995.”
The lawmakers also noted the deficiency in the equipment of the country’s law enforcement and safety units. PNP officials said the law enforcers used cellphones which hardly worked inside the building instead of using radios for their communication. This occurred when the BFP took hours before it could enter the RWM premises to save people due to the lack of gas masks and heat-repelling suits.
This prompted the lawmakers to underscore the importance of reviewing the budget of security and safety agencies to strengthen their capacity to address such situation.
Several House leaders inspected the RWM premises during the hearing and followed the movements made by the gunman to better appreciate the issues surrounding the incident.
The lawmakers also requested the submission of pertinent documents and CCTV footage taken from May 31 to June 2, 2017, copies of reports, briefers and manuals of procedures during emergency for review of the committees.
The committee likewise agreed to invite additional resource persons for the next committee hearing which was set on Wednesday next week. (30) CM

RESORTS WORLD  INQUIRY:  The House committees on public order and safety, on games and amusements, and on tourism chaired, respectively, by Reps. Romeo Acop (2nd District, Antipolo City), Gus Tambunting (2nd District, Parañaque City) and Lucy Torres-Gomez (4th District, Leyte) held a joint inquiry into the June 2 attack on Resorts World  Manila in Pasay City by lone gunman and gambling addict Jessie Carlos, which resulted in the death of 37 guests and employees. Speaker Pantaleon D. Alvarez and Majority Leader Rodolfo Fariñas led lawmakers in interpellating Resorts World Manila executives led by its President and CEO Kingson Sian and its Chief Safety and Security Officer Armeen Basister Gomez, officials of the Philippine National Police (PNP), Bureau of Fire Protection (BFP), and Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corp. (Pagcor) about security and safety issues in the aftermath of the attack. Several lawmakers also conducted  an ocular inspection of the Resorts World complex. /PC/ENG

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