After earning the ire of parents, support groups for children with autism, and some members of the tourism industry for his response to the complaint of a guest whose child has special needs, Manny Gonzalez, founder and CEO of Plantation Bay Resort and Spa, resigned Tuesday, December 15, as resident shareholder of the popular resort in Cebu. This was announced in an official statement released by the resort.
Gonzalez admitted that his reaction, which many online deemed as rude, arrogant and lacking in empathy, was an “error of judgment which led to so much trouble to many innocent people.” He said he decided to resign to protect the Plantation Bay staff “from further indignities.”
The man has attracted much interest since that infamous TripAdvisor reply, with netizens even digging up an old, also strongly worded written response of his to Plantation Bay guests, this time a group of hospital workers (he called them “punks”), who complained about getting food poisoning from the resort buffet.
But who, really, is Manny Gonzalez?
In a 2018 profile on him by the esteemed writer Cecilia Manguerra-Brainard, Gonzalez is described as “the biz wiz.” Manguerra-Brainard, author of several books, is a first cousin of Gonzalez.
In the article, the writer identifies Gonzalez as a successful businessman, the CEO and principal shareholder of Plantation Bay. She paints him as a man with very fine taste, meticulous when it comes to details; a traveler who owns a house in Barcelona but maintains a residence in the resort.
Gonzalez was a Humanities major in Ateneo, and also studied at Columbia University. He has had a long career in banking and finance. In an interview with The Philippine Star in 2018, it is revealed he has lived in Paris, London, Barcelona, San Francisco, New York, Vancouver, Los Angeles, Washington DC, and Hong Kong. He also did business and worked with people in Latin America, the Caribbean, the Middle East, and India. “I learned a lot about other cultures by keeping my eyes, ears, and mouth open,” he told the publication.
But back to Manguerra-Brainard’s story—she remembers Gonzalez to be highly entrepreneurial even as a young boy, and recalls the time when Plantation Bay was just a blueprint in Gonzalez’s head. He would visit the former’s mother in the early 1990s to “pick her brain.” Not long after, “he did build Plantation Bay from the ground, carving 11 hectares of dry Mactan land into a kind of fantasyland with seafront and a huge manmade pool at the center, surrounded by clusters of colonial-style buildings to house 260 rooms.”
To hear the writer say it, Gonzalez is indeed very much attached to the resort, having built it from the ground up. In his controversial statements alone, it is clear he will protect it to the very last. He keeps an apartment inside the property and manages the resort even when he’s away by keeping in touch with his staff. According to the article, Gonzalez has initiated health care programs that also benefit people from the resort’s surrounding communities. One of his happiest moments, as per Manguerra-Brainard’s profile, was Plantation Bay’s 20th anniversary celebration in 2016.
Online interest in Gonzalez began when Plantation Bay responded to a TripAdvisor review written by Mai Pages, mother of a 6-year old boy with autism, on her experience in Plantation Bay. Pages complained about how the resort lifeguards asked her to tell her son to keep quiet while they were in the man-made lagoon. Plantation Bay’s reaction, published in the same platform, explained what the resort CEO believed to be actual symptoms of autism. Addressed to TripAdvisor readers, the response said “this parent”—meaning Pages—“is most likely deliberately lying, or has been given an incorrect diagnosis of autism, when what the child more likely has is a lack of discipline due to simple parental neglect.”
While Gonzalez issued an apology for his “poor handling” of the complaint, ANC anchor Karen Davila, also a mom to a child with autism, called Gonzalez’s statement a non-apology. “Shame on you Manny Gonzales of Plantation Bay for trying to school a parent of a child with autism on what the symptoms are,” she wrote on Twitter. The Autism Society of the Philippines, in a statement, supported Pages. "A disability-compassionate and sympathetic hospitality organization would have gone the extra mile to understand their customer's perspective. Instead, the resort went the other way around."