By Krista A. M. Montealegre,
National Correspondent
IF THE GUNMAN in the deadly attack at the Resorts World Manila had walked into another establishment that fateful night last June, a security expert fears that guards in most places in Metro Manila would have responded the same way as those in the integrated resort.
The Philippines, even with its moderate-risk status, do not need special weapons and tactics team manning every establishment, but security goes beyond deploying guards with wooden sticks.
“A lot of Filipino companies aren’t used to the idea of paying for quality security. They always get the cheapest thing. Well, you pay for what you get and (you deal) with the consequences,” Gene Yu, the chief executive officer and cofounder of Blackpanda Ltd., said in an interview.
Blackpanda was tapped by Resorts World Manila to help establish new security protocols after gambling addict Jessie J. Carlos carried out an arson attack that left 37 dead.
“Imagining clients out there with their security cluster, they are basketball teams but nobody knows what their position is. They never practice. Nobody knows what the plays are. Who’s the coach? Who’s the captain? No one really knows. It’s just that we have basketball players and they’re sitting there and suddenly something happens and they immediately have to stand up and play in the game for real. Imagine that chaos,” Mr. Yu said.
A comprehensive security plan boils down to mastering the basics and ensuring a process is in place where the security personnel know what they are supposed to do in times of crisis, he said.
Blackpanda is more than just a private security company. It is an elite global special risks insurance and consultancy group based in Hong Kong and with offices across Tokyo, London and Southeast Asia.
Blackpanda knows that understanding the local culture and operating environment as well as engaging local partners are the keys to successful risk management. This approach has enabled the company to provide the reality on what’s on the ground, helping insurers better assess the risk of an investment.
Mr. Yu shared Blackpanda’s experience in performing a special risk audit and devising a long-term risk mitigation plan for a large-scale copper and gold mining venture in Mindanao. In the process, it uncovered local partner deception, local government collusion and active measures to delay the mine.
This allowed the client to gain a $25-million war and terror coverage from Lloyd’s of London, a British provider of specialist insurance services to businesses.
“We’re the guys that come in and increase the security profile to the point where we feel comfortable that even when there is an attack, the security and special risk management structure is strong enough that we can quickly mitigate the damage and the investment will survive,” Mr. Yu said.
A former US Army Special Forces officer, Mr. Yu spent eight years in the military with tours of duty in Iran, the Philippines and Japan. He was instrumental in the negotiation and release of a Taiwanese from Abu Sayyaf militants in the Philippines.
After leaving the military, Mr. Yu worked as an equity swaps trader at Credit Suisse in Hong Kong and with Palantir Technologies in its Asia-region business development department based in Singapore.
Seeing the country’s economic resurgence, Blackpanda came to the Philippines as its first proof of concept that the model of marrying security and insurance can work.
“Blackpanda has evolved towards insurance because to me, insurance is the productized version of security. It is an actual product that people can more tangibly understand and spend on because they get something back when something happens,” he said.
Mr. Yu has been in and out of the Philippines since 2004, but he feels like nothing has changed in terms of how Filipinos perceive the importance of security. While certain local events have raised the country’s consciousness about its value, security remains a “nuisance” for most businesses.
“It is actually very surprising when you look at it because there is actually a real-world threat here and you think people are taking it seriously. It’s almost like a collective if we close our eyes it’s not a concern. That’s a little bit of the cultural attitude towards security,” Mr. Yu said.
“Also because it is always there and it’s been so long that the Philippines has been on this stage of what I call moderate risk,” he said, citing the long-standing rebellion of the New People’s Army, considered one of the main threats in the Philippines.
The attack of the Islamic State-inspired Maute group on Marawi may have ended, but this could just be the tip of the iceberg amid reports that fighters from Syria and Iraq are flocking to Mindanao.
“Marawi, to me, is not over. I have to say that sorry. I’m really worried about that,” Mr. Yu said.
More businesses are becoming increasingly aware of the need to invest heavily in security to protect their investment, adding fuel to the country’s economic renaissance.
“It is a perfect place for us to come as a proof of concept because there’s interest to invest in the Philippines but they are really scared. My job is to make them less scared, try to remove the friction of the special risk they are facing in coming to the Philippines by providing them both consulting services as well as insure them so they are financially covered,” Mr. Yu said.