by Argyll Cyrus Geducos, Jeffrey Damicog, and Aaron Recuenco
The “lax response” by the Bureau of Fire Protection (BFP) to the burning of the gaming area of Resorts World Manila (RWM) casino in Pasay City Friday reportedly stemmed from a 2014 legal opinion of detained Sen. Leila de Lima, who during her stint as justice secretary banned the BFP from enforcing fire-related laws in casinos and instead mandated the Philippine Economic Zone Authority (PEZA), despite its lack of capability, to impose fire regulations.
This was revealed by Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II in a radio interview.
Thirty-seven persons – guests and employees succumbed to suffocation.
Because of her legal opinion, the investigation over the casino incident will now cover de Lima.
“We are wondering why there is such an opinion when we know that PEZA cannot implement fire laws in the country,” Aguirre noted.
Presidential Spokesperson Ernesto Abella said during the Mindanao Hour press briefing yesterday that the public should trust that justice for the victims will be rightfully served.
Aguirre has issued Department Order No. 354 dated June 4 directing the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) to conduct a probe to determine who should be held accountable for the casino-hotel tragedy.
“We need to know and to determine the responsibility and the liability, if any, of anyone which made possible the tragic events at Resorts World Manila. Whoever is responsible for allowing this tragedy to occur should be made accountable under our laws and before our courts,” Aguirre said in a statement.
“The ultimate goal is to file appropriate charges, if any, as the evidence may warrant. Tragedies like these should not be allowed to happen again,” Aguirre added.
The incident likewise prompted the Department of Tourism (DoT) to call for a review of security protocols in all similar establishments in the country.
“Hotels and gaming establishments security must be reviewed. The security concern must be felt that it has to be serious,” DoT Assistant Secretary Frederick Alegre said.
Alegre said the DOT-accredited hotel and casino can lose its accreditation if it fails to comply with proper security measure.
Based on the CCTV (closed-circuit television) footages alone, Senior Supt. Ildebrando Usana, deputy chief of the Supervisory Office for Security and Investigation Agencies (SOSIA) said they spotted some rules and regulations that were violated by the security agency.
Among them is the non-wearing of the prescribed uniform that was approved by the PNP-SOSIA when NC Lanting Security Specialist Agency applied for permit to operate.
Usana said they already met with the officials of NC Lanting to shed light on what really happened at the casino hotel.
The security guards were reportedly wearing barong at the time of the incident, which is not the usual uniform prescribed by the police unit.
“Any changes in uniform should have the approval of SOSIA. In their case, it was not approved,” said Usana.
“If the investigation would reveal that there were rules violated, it could lead to the revocation or cancellation of the permits of the SOSIA,” said Usana.
Aside from NC Lanting officials, Usana said they will also invite the security managers of the in-house security of RWM.
It was learned that the NC Lanting was tasked to guard the perimeter of the casino hotel while the in-house security guarded the casino.
Despite their sine die adjournment, the House Committees on Public Order and Safety and on Games and Amusement will hold tomorrow a joint legislative inquiry into the RWM incident that resulted in the death of Elizabeth Panlilio-Gonzales, wife of Pampanga Rep. Aurelio Gonzales.
“Our authorities should not lull our people into complacency by dismissing the incident as a common criminal act. Neither should they relax just because they refuse to label the incident as such,” said Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez. (With reports from Betheena Kae Unite, Ben R. Rosario, and Charissa Luci Atienza)