The Resorts World Manila siege on the 2nd of June that resulted in the deaths of 37 and injured more than 50 people highlighted yet again how unsafe the facilities are and how precarious the security situation is in the Philippines even inside world class establishments. The incident also shows the role media plays in adding to the confusion and chaos in an already stressful and dangerous situation.
While the tragedy was initiated by a lone gunman — someone authorities have now revealed was just a gambling addict who went berserk and not someone affiliated with Islamic terror group ISIS — the cause of deaths of the victims was suffocation from thick smoke coming from the fires the gunman set. Meaning, the deaths could have been avoided if, one, the staff and guests of the casino had managed to exit the building and, two, the fire safety devices like the sprinkler system worked properly.
After watching the CCTV footage of the tragedy, many people questioned why the sprinkler system did not seem to work after the gunman set some tables on fire. Philippine authorities need to investigate if the building complied with the building code. There have been cases in the past when fatalities could have been avoided had the facility had more fire exits and a functioning fire protection system. It is apparent that not much has changed in the years since more than a 150 people died in Ozone Disco Club fire in Quezon City in 1996 due to a lack of fire exits and overcrowding of the facility.
Resorts World Manila management has a lot of explaining to do since the deaths could have been avoided or casualties could have been reduced had their staff been better trained in emergency situations. It was also reported that apparently, management put the casino on lock down while the perpetrator was on a rampage. Is this lock down their protocol? Who are they protecting in doing that? Their first priority should have been to bring out people to safety and not lock them in. One would think that management could have seen through the CCTV camera where the gunman was and the real situation and knew it was safe for the patrons and staff to escape. The gunman did not even use his firearm to kill. He just used it to disperse people so he could get to where the vault was.
Some people have theorised that the staff and guests could have been immobilised and hid in the rooms since they were afraid it might be a terrorist attack. It probably didn’t help that they were getting information from the outside saying it could be one.
One such information that turned out to be false was a claim by terrorism monitoring group SITE that first said an ISIS “Filipino operative” was behind the incident. Later, ISIS claimed that its “fighters” carried out the attack. These false claims were highlighted by blogsite Rappler, which did not help calm an already jittery public and reported that “…alleged ISIS member Semion Almujaheed, a member of the group that has taken parts of Marawi, claimed responsibility on a pro-ISIS channel.”
Rappler even implied that Philippine authorities were contradicting themselves and were downplaying incident. It seems Rappler is more inclined to believe the ISIS spokesperson’s word over that of the Philippine authorities’. It could be because the terror narrative makes better clickbait than more factual accounts. Rappler editor Maria Ressa went on to write an article “Terrorism and ISIS at Resorts World attack?” inferring that ISIS could be behind the “attack”. She wrote a long-winded article outlining the “terror networks in the Philippines and Southeast Asia” as if she is some kind of “expert” we should all believe. However, putting a question mark on the title of her article tells us she is not sure herself about her subject. Ressa seems to be another conspiracy theorist who cannot wait for facts before publishing her analysis on the matter.
There are people who went as far as saying that there is blood on Rappler’s hands since their scaremongering could have led to people panicking instead of using level-headedness to escape a dangerous situation. Indeed, this incident reminds me of how media personnel contributed to the deaths of eight Chinese tourist in the hands of a disgruntled police officer during the Mendoza hostage crisis in 2010. The media gave a blow-by-blow account of the hostage crisis, which the hostage-taker monitored through a TV and AM/FM radio inside the hijacked bus. This agitated the hostage taker who saw the movements of the police on TV.
Could the staff and guests of Resorts World Manila have been monitoring the news and reading false claims from publications such as Rappler at the time the tragedy was unfolding? We all know that most people can monitor events on social media through their mobile devices nowadays.
We can only hope that publications such as Rappler would be more careful in reporting the news in the future since they claim to be a news outlet and not a blogsite like most people think they are. They could be sacrificing quality over quantity just to keep up with competition for the latest information. Publications such as Rappler should realise that being late but accurate with the news is better than providing false and deadly information.