DOT probes Cebu resort for reported discrimination against child with autism

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, December 9) — The Department of Tourism has rolled out an investigation on Plantation Bay Resort & Spa for reportedly discriminating against a child with autism during his family's stay in the property.

In a statement, the agency said it will conduct hearings into the incident involving the resort in Cebu after an executive made insensitive remarks towards a guest – a parent of a child with autism – who complained about their stay.

User "maipages" left a detailed review on travel website TripAdvisor cautioning that Plantation Bay was not friendly to persons with special needs, recounting her ordeal when she and her son Fin was confronted multiple times by lifeguards on duty while he was squealing with joy as he frolicked in the waters. 

"No luxury of this proportion can make this experience okay because that is not what we need. We need a friendly and emphatetic environment for kids and families with special needs," read the guest's one-star review.

Manny Gonzalez, who introduced himself as a resident shareholder of the resort, responded to the guest's complaint using the account of the general manager. He accused the parent of lying when she said that a child with autism cannot control his own squeals and noise, telling the mom to do a Google search about her son's condition.

Gonzalez went on to justify the actions of the lifeguards who told the kid to keep it down, saying it was an issue of safety "to hear cries of distress even from far away." He added that the mother-son duo cannot be accommodated for the sake of other visitors who came to relax: "It is not a resort for noise-makers, regardless of their reason."

​DOT added that after due notice and hearings, it will hand "proper administrative sanctions" to the resort. The agency will also tap the Department of Justice for corresponding action regarding possible violations of the Disability Law, saying that the family can also file a complaint on these grounds.

A day after Gonzalez's remarks went viral online — which triggered boycott calls among dismayed netizens — Plantation Bay issued an apology letter through its social media pages.

There, Gonzalez owned up to his "poor handling" of the guest complaint, saying he was wrong to question the mother's motives and that he regrets leaving the impression that the resort was "not supportive" of parents and children with special needs. He apologized "to all the parties who felt offended by my reply."

However, netizens still found the apology insincere, mainly due to the line that reads: "A mother's pride is important, but more important are the lives of the children who come here." Gonzalez pointed out the resort has not seen a child's death in the past 25 years due to their safety policies.

The group Autism Society Philippines, which earlier called Gonzalez's response to the guest as "shamefully ignorant" of the plight of the family, still found Plantation Bay's apology wanting. 

"Plantation Bay Resort & Spa stands firm on their belief that there is no room for reasonable accommodation for the needs of individuals with developmental disabilities — even equating it with parental 'pride,'" it said in a statement. "We hope the company acknowledges the need for rights-based disability sensitivity training and a review of its policies and processes against the Magna Carta of Persons with Disabilities."

People with autism spectrum disorder have a developmental disability that causes them to "communicate, interact, behave, and learn in ways that are different from most other people," according to the United States' Center for Disease Control and Prevention. 

There is no cure for this condition, but early intervention and therapy can improve a child's development.

READ: Autism Fast Facts