Looting after Resorts World tragedy? Items stolen from dead, says solon
A congressman’s wife who died in the Resorts World Manila attack had her Rolex watch removed from her body and had money stolen from her ATM card three days after the incident, a lawmaker told a House inquiry on Wednesday.
Surigao del Sur Rep. Johnny Pimentel revealed during the joint inquiry on the June 2 incident that there was “looting” of the valuables of the fatalities, including Elizabeth Panlilio Gonzales, wife of Pampanga Rep. Aurelio Gonzales Jr.
Relaying information given to him by the grieving Gonzales, Pimentel said valuable items were missing from the body of the former’s wife, including her “Rolex watch, credit card and ATM card,” after it was sent to the morgue.
“The incident happened on June 2, but there was withdrawal of P25,000 on June 5 from her ATM card. How could that be possible? Somebody used her ATM card,” said Pimentel, chair of the House good government and public accountability committee.
Gonzales was among the 37 victims who died after inhaling smoke when a lone gunman stormed the casino hotel on June 2, fired shots in the air, torched gaming tables, set himself on fire and then shot himself dead.
During the hearing held jointly by the House panels on public order and safety, games and amusements, and tourism, Pimentel said he also wished to ask the families of the other victims to determine if they also experienced looting of the valuables or whether they suspected it.
Following up on that line of questioning, Valenzuela Rep. Wes Gatchalian grilled police officers on who had first access to the fatalities and who were responsible for retrieving their bodies.
National Capital Region Police Office director Oscar Albayalde denied that the police were the ones who retrieved the corpses at the scene.
“The PNP (Philippine National Police) did not take the dead,” he told the body.
“Whatever belongings were there, it was not the PNP that took those things. If these were intact, SOCO (scene-of-the-crime operatives) will remove them, then the items will be turned over the investigator, who should be the one to give back the valuables to the families,” he said.
Albayalde said it was not the SOCO who determined which funeral parlor the bodies were to be taken but the investigator-on-case, depending on which ones were accredited by the police crime laboratory.
David Chua Ming Huat, chairman of the board of Travellers International Hotel Group Inc., which owns Resorts World Manila, appeared at the hearing to express his regret for what happened.
“Allow me, and on behalf of the Travellers International Hotel Group Inc., its board of directors, management and staff, to express our deepest sympathies to the families of all who perished and were injured,” he said.
“This unfortunate event has affected so many people and will permanently change the lives of 37 families and 6,000 Resorts World Manila staff and personnel. I count myself among them as I have been part of Resorts World Manila from the very beginning,” he said.
Chua also pleaded with the lawmakers to consider the contributions of Resorts World Manila to the Philippine economy following suggestions that the casino hotel’s license could be revoked as a result of the incident.
“We ask you to consider what Resorts World Manila has contributed and continues to contribute for the country. We have invested $1.3 billion in Resorts World Manila alone, with another $1.1 billion earmarked for Resorts World Westside City,” he said.
“We significantly contributed to the Philippine government coffers approximately P40 billion in license fees and other taxes. Since 2008, we created approximately 26,000 direct and indirect jobs. Currently, we have 6,000 staff and personnel,” Chua said.
Lawmakers earlier indicated their desire to have gaming operators again be subject to a congressional franchise, instead of licensing by the Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corp.
Chua said: “While we grieve with the affected families, let it not be forgotten that we are victims, too. This was an attack on our home and we lost people who are dear to us.”
“We hope that with the assistance of Congress and the other governmental agencies present, we can start the painful and difficult task of rebuilding as it is also our responsibility to take care of our 6,000 staff and personnel,” he said.
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