The clock turns midnight and with it comes the echoes of gunshots and smokescreens of fire exiting the Resorts World Manila. A horror scene much like in the movies, now so much more visceral and enigmatic, with the suspension of disbelief bordering reality. About a month later and still, that haunting scene resides among the workers and tenants who continue to step foot on parched soil. Business as usual is the routine response, only this time with faints of penitence and apprehension.
The air as crisp as a ghost town and the sight of none more than the resort’s most ardent guests, life in the Resorts World has come to a standstill. Sales are down, customers are nowhere to be seen and clerks cautiously staying lane in their stores is an encapsulated view of what post-tragedy looks like. In spite of all of this, employees remain religious in promoting the typical, naturally for their own subsistence, even at the cost of a watered down sense of confidence.
In a state of panic
Donna*, a sales specialist, was closing up shop when a loud noise startled everyone inside the mall. “Nung una hindi namin alam na gunshot so parang may nalaglag or ganyan or malakas na bumagsak, tapos nung sumunod, after siguro ng 5 minutes, biglang sunod sunod na putok (At first we thought something had fallen and made a loud sound, and after about 5 minutes we heard consecutive shots being fired).”
She was with another co-worker at the time, and upon hearing the gunshots they fled to the pantry for cover, waiting for the guard to give them a signal to come out. After an hour of being stuck on the third floor they had finally escaped and had come to stand outside the mall with the other employees and guests, most of whom had no definite idea as to what was going on either.
Donna recounts, “Mga 1:47 am pa kami bumaba doon sa fire exit doon sa ground floor. Tapos nung pababa na kami, nandoon ang mga tao, pero yung iba hindi talaga alam kung ano ang nangyayari (At around 1:47 AM we went down to the fire exit on the ground floor, where all the other people were. Some of them still had no idea regarding what was really happening).” Nevertheless, the words “terrorist attack” hung in the air and the media immediately sank its teeth into it, even scaring the folks at home into a frenzy, as countless rumors and allegations blew up on social media.
Donna shares that she actually knew one of the victims, Hazel. She was a casino dealer whom Donna saw around the mall quite often. While they weren’t very close, it was still traumatizing, to say the least, to be present at such a tragic incident that left casualties and dozens more physically and emotionally hurt.
For Mara, on the other hand, she is still quite shaken from the events as she had been working on the second floor of the mall where the incident itself had taken place, saying, “Nakita ko po ang mismong gunman na may baril siya and naka-bonnet yung mukha niya so tumakbo kami paloob (I saw the armed gunman himself and he was wearing a bonnet over his face, so we ran inside).”
While Mara was giving her account of what happened, her manager politely stepped in and requested that she refrain from talking about the incident any longer. It was unfortunate for the interview to have been cut so short, but it came as no surprise since all Resorts World Manila employees were forbidden to say anything regarding what had happened, and it was impossible to obtain interviews with those who personally knew and worked alongside the victims as they had been given time off work.
In a state of limbo
Having to go back to a place where lives were lost and forever changed, Donna was hesitant to get back into the swing of things and be swept up in work yet again. “Medyo takot parin ako pagpasok sa trabaho, pero ngayon parang okay naman, kasi nakikita naman namin na parang safe naman (I was a bit scared to go in to work, but now it’s okay because we can see that it seems safe),” she shares.
On the other hand, Justin*, a store officer-in-charge, shares that the feeling of going back to work does not feel any different for him, stating, “S’akin, okay lang naman kasi tapos naman. Siyempre, business to, kailangan mag-move on, hindi naman inaasahan ng lahat na mangyayari ito (For me, it’s okay because it’s over. Of course, this is business, so we have to move on. No one expected it to happen).”
Regarding business, there has been visible changes, as Justin shares that along with other stores, they haven’t really had any customers since then and their sales have dropped. As for a message to the public? Donna simply says, “Huwag naman sila matakot na (Do not be afraid anymore).”
When the dust settles
Although the hiring of a new security agency increased the number of x-ray machines and doubled up deployment of guards with firearms, sometimes “back to normal” just doesn’t seem normal at all. The ambiance feels off, the employees look tentative, and the entire mall just sounds a lot more muffled. Even heightened security measures have begun to give more of a confining rather than welcoming feel.
To see workers willingly choose to continue working in a place of recent shock reveals a conundrum many take for granted: the need to earn a living amidst looming uneasiness. Not every employee has socio-economic safety plugs they can rely on once the unexpected hits, more so an emotional safety net to actively choose to resign from their position. If anything, the words “move on” have to be understood as something mandatory and not optional.
A day of reckoning, a moment of silence, June 2 remains to be the uneventful day among the string of days preceded to be ordinary. For those who lived to tell the tale, it will forever be the day the mall stood still.