Style Living Self Celebrity Geeky News and Views
In the Paper Shop Hello! Create with us

DOT investigates Plantation Bay. Mom of special child says resort’s apology insincere

By Tanya Lara Published Dec 10, 2020 4:10 am Updated Dec 15, 2020 2:43 am

The Department of Tourism (DOT) released a statement yesterday, Dec. 9, saying it is investigating Plantation Bay Resort over an incident involving a guest and her child with autism.

The department said that after due notice and hearing, it “will mete the proper administrative sanctions to the resort. The DOT will also coordinate with the Department of Justice (DOJ) for its proper action under the Disability Law, under which the aggrieved party may also file the complaint.”

The short statement stems from an incident on Dec, 6 involving registered nurse and photographer Mai Pages and her six-year-old son Fin, a child with autism, when they stayed overnight at the luxury resort in Mactan, Cebu.

In an interview with PhilSTAR L!fe, Mai says she and her son checked in at the resort on Saturday at 4 p.m. and checked out the next day at 9 a.m. The incident happened between 7:30 and 8 a.m. Sunday.

Mai Pages and son Fin: “I hope that something good will come out of this.” Photo courtesy of Mai Pages

The general manager’s response to her review on Tripadvisor, she says, “made it look like my child was screaming his head off, having a meltdown and was uncontrollable. But he was just very happy. How do I control a happy child from squealing and laughing? It felt like he discounted my being a mother and that if Fin can’t keep quiet it’s my fault and that we do not deserve to stay there.”

Mai says they have never been discriminated against in other resorts. “I hope that something good will come out of this and that this will create more awareness,” she says. “It’s an opportunity to educate people about the special needs sector, which I think has been forgotten.”

Fin loves open spaces, plants and water. Plantation Bay was the perfect place...supposedly.

It’s not Fin’s first time at Plantation Bay either—it’s his second. And after being cooped at home during the COVID lockdown, “he was very, very happy—as in really delighted—to be there.”

Mai says, “Fin loves open spaces, plants and water. Plantation Bay was the perfect place….supposedly.”

She adds that because of the pandemic, Fin’s therapy and special school stopped. “It dis-regulated him. It was hard because all the OT and speech (therapy) worked on him, and slowly went to waste. Kids on the spectrum thrive on consistency and routine.”

Mai tells PhilSTAR L!fe the apology that Plantation Bay posted on its Facebook page “didn’t feel sincere or heartfelt.”

Plantation Bay’s apology posted on its Facebook page

The incident became public when Mai wrote a review on Tripadvisor saying their stay could have been perfect had it not been the treatment of the resort when her son was at the pool.

“When something excites him or when he is happy, he makes it known by squealing with delight. Fin is happy! That is what I always tell him every time he does that. I thought that was okay until we were told from afar (a lifeguard). As a mother, your initial action would be directed to your child. So I told him not to squeal because it wasn’t allowed. Quite frankly it was a difficult moment. Another lifeguard came and told us the same thing. I had to explain that he is a child with needs.

“Every time Fin jumps in the water he’d be so happy that he’d laugh and squeal 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!

Mai and Fin: Before the unfortunate incident, “he was very, very happy—as in really delighted—to be there.” 

“The plan to swim the whole morning came to a halt. I asked Fin if we could go back to the room because we weren’t allowed to squeal and be merry the special way.
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! I will never consider staying here ever again. No luxury of this proportion can make this experience okay because that is not what we need.

“We need a friendly and empathetic environment for kids and families with special needs.”

They made it look like my child was screaming his head off, having a meltdown and was uncontrollable. But he was just very happy. How do I control a happy child from squealing and laughing?

Plantation Bay general manager Efren Belarmino responded to her review on the website. “Plantation Bay is very clear on our website as well as on social media about its strict policies regarding noise-making by anyone. Our first reason for this is safety. There are almost 3 hectares of lagoons and swimming pools in the resort, 10 times more water area than most resorts in Mactan. It is essential that our staff be able to hear cries of distress even from far away.

“Moreover, it is essential that our staff not become so used to hearing screaming that they ignore a real cry for help. And once one child starts screaming, others tend to follow in imitation. Therefore, since our opening, for the safety of all guests, we have imposed stricter rules on noise-making than other resorts. As a result of our policy, no child in Plantation Bay has ever come to serious harm, much less drowned. NO OTHER RESORT in Mactan can claim this safety record. Children have died in all other major resorts on the island, as indeed they do in most resorts around the world, even those with tiny wading pools. 0 deaths in 25 years is a good safety record, one we aim to keep.

“Secondly, most people come to a resort to relax. You cannot relax if people around you are constantly screaming. Every customer should be respected, not just one parent and one child. Most of our guests fully understand and agree with this idea: it is not a resort for noise-makers, regardless of their reason. To demand that all the customers just shut up while one child screams his head off? That’s not our idea of fairness.

Plantation Bay Resort: “To demand that all the customers just shut up while one child screams his head off? That’s not our idea of fairness.”

“Third, if she were truly concerned for her child’s welfare, a person who doesn’t want, or is unable, to control her child, should have read and noted our policies before choosing Plantation Bay. These policies are on our website, in our confirmation letter, and on social media. Therefore this parent is trying to blame the resort for her own failure to look after her child’s interests. While we are sorry that we are not the right resort for this parent and child, we hope that in the future other parents who want their children to scream constantly and bother other guests, will do their homework and choose another resort, one which doesn’t care about the 99% of guests who want to relax in peace and quiet.

“Finally, in the age of COVID-19, everyone should remember that screaming, even loud talking, spreads a higher viral load a much farther distance than ordinary talking. With loud shouting, viruses scatter in a radius of 10 meters or more, not one meter as in normal speech. For public health, it would benefit society that everyone learn to speak in a soft voice in all circumstances except real emergencies.”

While the reply supposedly comes from Belarmino’s Tripadvisor account, it was signed at the bottom with “Manny Gonzalez, Resident Shareholder.”

The reply has angered mothers and advocates for better treatment of children with special needs.

Autism Strong Philippines, an awareness/advocacy project, condemned the treatment and response on Twitter. “His response to the parent was inappropriate…They should conduct sensitivity training for all personnel when dealing with PWAs.”