‘You don’t belong in tourism industry’: Villanueva slams Plantation Bay for Google-based argument

December 9, 2020 - 5:21 PM
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Plantation Resort
An overview of Plantation Bay Resort and Spa in Mactan, Cebu on this photo uploaded on its Facebook page on July 20, 2020. (Photo from Plantation Bay Resort & Spa via Facebook)

The incident involving a Cebu-based resort and a mother with a son diagnosed with autism caught the attention of a lawmaker who tweeted that the resort shareholder does “not belong to (the) tourism industry.”

Sen. Joel Villanueva, the chair of the Senate labor committee, responded to a post by ABS-CBN broadcast journalist Karen Davila who shared the statement of Plantation Bay Resort & Spa resident shareholder Manny Gonzalez after a guest left a review on Tripadvisor.

Gonzalez had responded to the guest, Mai Pages, through resort manager Efren Belarmino on the platform, which drew flak for the way he attempted to school Pages on her son’s condition and claimed that she was “most likely deliberately lying” on her post.

Pages initially left a one-star review on the resort through the travel platform where she said that it was “not an ideal place for a child with special needs.”

She recounted how she and her son were forced to vacate a swimming area after lifeguards called them after hearing his joyful squeals.

“Every time Fin jumps in the water, he’d be so happy that he’d laugh and squeals again. I tried hushing him and at one point, tried to cover his mouth. But then I realized, this is so wrong? This isn’t right at all!” Pages wrote.

“It’s a discriminating experience. We often get this a lot. When normal people who are ignorant of people with special needs, give us that stare of, please control your child. My Fin is a happy child. He has autism. He is special. Very special!” she added.

Gonzalez through Belarmino wrote back and claimed that her son’s “uncontrolled shouting” was not a symptom of autism, even accusing her of “most likely deliberately lying.”

“For your information, uncontrolled shouting is not a symptom of autism. On the contrary, autistic children tend to be silent, non-verbal, and overwhelmed and withdrawn when faced with strangers… Google ‘Autism’ and verify this for yourself,” he wrote.

Gonzalez added that their policies against noise stem from safety concerns, where their staff may be able to respond to distress calls—such as drowning—from guests easier and to maintain the resort’s relaxing environment for other people.

Davila, who similarly has a son diagnosed with autism, read and shared Gonzalez’s response to Pages on her Twitter, where she called him out and described him as a “disgrace to the tourism industry.”

“Shame on you, Manny Gonzales of Plantation Bay, for trying to school a parent of a child with autism on what the symptoms are… Your words & heartlessness do not belong in the world today that seeks to include all persons with needs,” she tweeted.

This eventually reached Villanueva, who found Gonzalez’s response to Pages “uncalled for.”

“I am flabbergasted. If I call on you to a Senate inquiry, you should not be bringing facts coming from Google alone! You do not belong to (the) tourism industry!” the lawmaker said.

Prior to Davila and Villanueva’s comments, Gonzalez has released a statement acknowledging his “poor handling” of Pages’ complaint but reiterated the resort’s noise policies in light of “safety and relaxation.”

“I was wrong to question the mother’s motives, and deeply regret leaving the impression that we are not supportive of the community of parents with children who have special needs,” he said in a statement released Tuesday.

“Our hotel’s policy on keeping noise levels down in the pool and at the restaurants is geared toward safety and relaxation for all guests. We try to apply this policy even-handedly. As a result of that policy, in almost 25 years we have never had a child die here,” Gonzalez added.

“I handled this case poorly, and apologize to all the parties who felt offended by my reply,” he further said.

Autism Society Philippines (ASP) acknowledged Gonzalez’s statement but added that the resort should consider “the need for rights-based disability sensitivity training and a review of its policies and processes against the Magna Carta of Persons with Disabilities.”

“This sad event is an opportunity for disability sensitivity training; and a review of the resort’s policies and procedures for compliance to RA 7277, the Magna Carta for Persons with Disability,” the non-profit organization said on the same day that Gonzalez released his statement.

Republic Act 7277 states that no person with disability shall be discriminated from “full and equal enjoyment of the goods, services, facilities, privileges, advantages or accommodations of any place of public accommodation by any person who owns, leases, or operates a place of public accommodation” on the basis of the disability.

“Beyond the public relations mess that this is (driven by an ill-crafted response), the noble men and women who serve to please their customers at the Plantation Bay Resort And Spa in Cebu can do better. Even the best-intentioned organizations can always use additional knowledge and improvements in areas they are not properly trained in,” ASP added on its website.

It also urged parents who found themselves in the similar situation to escalate the matters to the top management of the establishment or file a case in court or with the Commission on Human Rights.

ASP added that they may also reach the non-profit organization through its website, where affected parties can fill out a form.

The complaint also reached the Department of Tourism which said that it already “launched an investigation into the matter, and after due notice and hearing, will mete the proper administrative sanctions to the resort.”

It added that the tourism agency will also coordinate with the Department of Justice “for its proper action under the Disability Law, under which the aggrieved party may also file the complaint.”