Resorts World attack: 4 questions that beg for an answer

MANILA, Philippines – Within 3 days of an attack on a posh casino and entertainment hub in Pasay City, Metro Manila police found and identified the suspect, and declared the “case closed” – at least in the search for the apparent lone gunman. 

But barely a week after Jessie Carlos, a former finance department worker who apparently had a gambling addiction, stormed into Resorts World Manila, several questions linger surrounding his attack and how authorities – both public and private – responded to the short-lived crisis that resulted in the death of 38, including the gunman. (READ: TIMELINE: Resorts World Manila attack)

As the House of Representatives opened a probe into the robbery and arson attack on the popular casino, we revisit what we know about the incident and the questions that need to be answered, either through the legislative inquiry or through the official police investigation.  

What safety protocols did Resorts World Manila have in place? 

The gunman’s seemingly easy entry into the casino and shopping mall complex alone reveals several security weaknesses or lapses. The gunman was dropped off by a taxi at the designated drop-off area, which is the parking lot entrance. 

He entered through the parking lot and got on an elevator to the 2nd floor. This particular elevator and passageway is not guarded and does not have a metal detector, unlike the main entrance, for instance, which has at least two metal detectors and typically 4 guards on duty. 

The gunman was apparently not in a rush, based on closed circuit camera television (CCTV) footage released by Resorts World Manila management and the Philippine National Police (PNP). 

After arriving at the hotel at 12:07 am, the gunman spent nearly 4 minutes to enter an elevator, alight it, then wear his mask and ammunition vest. He also took out an M4 assault rifle from his backpack. 

It was not until 12:11 am when he entered the mall proper. He strode past a metal detector, prompting a lone security guard to chase after him. He then brandished his assault rifle, causing the security guard to flee. Panic ensued. 

Resorts World management said  it first called police as soon as the first gunshot was fired. Based on the Resorts World timeline and the CCTV footage, the first gunshot was fired at around 12:12 am when Carlos entered the Prosperity Court, where restaurants, bars, gambling tables, and slot machines can be found. 

While police were on their way, Resorts World began evacuating over 12,154 guests and employees. (READ: FAST FACTS: What you need to know about Resorts World Manila)

In an interview with Rappler, Jeff Santos, a Resorts World regular, said the evacuation procedure did not feel organized at all. 

“It wasn’t organized because the security personnel were the first to panic. So sensing the situation, that’s what was happening to you, you would panic yourself. The security personnel were in panic, so your instinct is just to run,” said Santos, who was at the 3rd floor VIP area when the incident happened. 

Panic was evident, officials and those who fled the complex agree. Some even began shouting “ISIS,” referring to the international terrorist group. 

That the terror group was top of mind for many wasn’t very surprising. Miles away in Marawi City, military and police were – and still are – weeding our local terror groups who’ve pledged allegiance to ISIS. (READ: Terrorism and ISIS at Resorts World attack?)

Was Resorts World Manila and police response enough?  

After firing his first shots, Carlos began torching several gambling tables. He then went into the chip bank, also located on the casino floor. Police claimed Carlos was looking for cash but since where was none, he settled for P113 million worth of high-value chips called “plaques.”

This happened at around 12:18 am. The police arrived roughly two minutes after, according to Resorts World. The moment they arrived, “police took the lead and Resorts World Manila security served as support guiding the authorities through the property.” 

But it was not until 1:10 am when the gunman first exchanged gunfire with casino security and police. The encouter left the gunman and a security guard injured.

Resorts World Manila, like most casinos, is secured by numerous CCTV cameras. And like most casinos, these cameras are monitored real-time by several people. So why did it take nearly an hour for police and establishment security to locate the gunman, who was apparently running up and down several floors?

Resorts World Manila management ignored the media query during a news conference on Saturday, June 3. In a chance interview, Metro Manila police chief Director Oscar Albayalde said the CCTV monitoring room had been evacuated as well.

Relatives of the 37 who died from suffocation have also claimed that the lockdown – ordered because there was an active gunman inside – led to the high death toll.  

Rescuers – members of the Bureau of Fire Protection, among others – were barred from entering the area, partly for their own protection. Police were not sure where the gunman was at that point. 

Resorts World regular Santos also thinks the security measures implemented because of the gunman left fire victims vulnerable. Most of those who died were found on the 2nd floor, near the saloon area, where high-rollers – not necessarily VIP gamblers – place their bets. 

Could authorities have been more flexible with its lockdown at that point?  It just takes a few minutes for a person to lose consciousness – and eventually, die – because of fumes from a fire. 

Where did Carlos get his firearms? How much damage can 3 liters of gasoline do? 

Aside from the M4 assault rifle, Carlos was carrying with him a .38 caliber gun and at least 3 liters of gasoline, which he later used to set ablaze gambling tables, slot machines, a hotel hallway, and eventually, himself.

Police said the M4 rifle’s serial number had been tampered with. The .38 caliber gun was last registered in 1998. Carlos’ family is not aware of any weapons that he owned.

The weapons were also the subject of a rather curious incident days before the attack. 

At Resorts World Manila, there are “financiers” who provide gamblers – mostly regulars – with cash or casino chips in case they want to play and don’t have either on hand. 

Santos said players can trade things – a car, a watch, for instance – in exchange for cash or casino chips. These deals can involve millions and is an unregulated economy within casinos.  

Santos also claimed the M4 rifle and another weapon, a “Sting” assault weapon, had been going around in financier circles. It was no less than the gunman who was trying to sell his firearm for around P150,000, the typical price for the second hand weapon, those familiar with firearms told Rappler.  

But it wasn’t the gun that caused the most damage, it turns out.  

What was the gunman going to do with the chips?

As soon as police swept the area and discovered the cadaver of the gunman, top officials led by PNP chief Director General Ronald dela Rosa ruled out that it was a terror attack. 

ISIS would later claim responsibility for the incident, which it had done in past attacks all over the world. (Read: Casino targeted with suicide attack because it's 'haram' - ISIS)

That Carlos stole P113.1 million in chips, police said, was proof that robbery was the primary objective in the attack. It was later revealed that he was in debt and had been sacked from his job years back because of his failure to disclose certain assets. (READ: Are you familiar with the casino chips system)

He has also been banned from casinos run by the Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corporation, upon the request of his wife. 

While many people find it incredulous that he would steal chips that can only be encashed in the same establishment he attacked and torched, Santos did not. He pointed to an easy route: financiers.  

Santos said in theory, Carlos could have sold the chips to a financier. The financier would have been able to resell the chips or plaques or encash them without too many questions asked. The Resorts World Manila regular added it wasn’t unusual for a financier to carry P20 million worth of chips on a regular day. 

Police and government officials characterized Carlos as “mentally disturbed” but his family didn’t share the same observation. Either way, it’s hard to tell now – no matter which expert you talk to – because it’s impossible to speak to Jessie Carlos himself and find out why he did what he did. – Rappler.com