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Wedding Party Robbed in Exclusive Batangas Resort

Two villas rented by a wedding party in the exclusive Club Balai Isabel in Talisay, Batangas were pillaged Saturday, February 13 while the guests were attending the wedding ceremony at a church in the neighboring city of Tanauan.

Police identified the bride as Annabel Aquino, 26, and the groom as Christer E. Manabat, 30. Manabat and Aquino are both residents of the United States. They booked the resort for their wedding reception and accommodation.

Initial investigation by the Talisay Municipal Police Station revealed that the wedding party left the resort around 2 p.m. for the ceremony at the Nuestra Señora Dela Soledad Parish.

Upon their return to the resort around 5 p.m., the newlyweds and their respective families discovered that something was amiss in the villas (Sotto and Corazon) they were renting.

According to the police, the guests found the sliding door of Villa Cecilia open and discovered that the rooms have been broken into.

Authorities said cash, jewelry, luxury watches, DSLR cameras, laptops and other electronic gadgets, and branded clothes amounting to PhP2.5M have been stolen.

Melanie Pacheco-Aquino, sister-in-law of the bride, told SecurityMatters that even the newlyweds’ passports have been taken.

Not the first time

News of the alleged burglary broke out on social media the following day.

On travel review site TripAdvisor, user starblanket94, shared what happened.

“2 of the villas we rented were runsacked [sic], causing us to lose millions worth of things (and memories).

We checked in at Club Balai, the place where the reception of the wedding we’ll be attending will be held. We rented 2 villas, located at different areas. ALL of us left the resort at around 2pm as the wedding was scheduled at 3pm (it was 30-45 minutes away). We came back to Club Balai at around 5pm, The front door was locked and as we were waiting for the person who was holding the key, we realized that the backdoor was already opened. (We checked all doors before we left and made sure they were locked) Almost 95% of the things we left behind were robbed (money, gadgets, IDs, wallets, etc.). We left these as we couldn’t bring all of them to the church and the reception would be at Club Balai anyway. Worse thing, the other villa we rented also got robbed. In total, we lost millions of pesos worth.”

Said user also hinted that perpetrators may have specifically targeted their villas.

“Is it coincidence that we were robbed during the time that we were at the wedding? Obviously, the thieves knew that we will be gone during that time and won’t be back until later. It was also weird that they knew the units of the bride and groom respectively (it wasn’t side by side or across, FYI). Most of the guests came from abroad as the couple is based in the US.”

Meanwhile, on Facebook, a community page named Boycott Club Balai Isabel, Talisay, Batangas was created to recount the incident.

In a post, Apollo Jones, brother of the bride, narrated their horrible experience and shared that this wasn’t the first time a robbery happened in the resort’s premises.

“A quick browse through the reviews on TripAdvisor for the resort would reveal that in July 2015, a group of 15 in three different rooms had their rooms ransacked of gadgets and cash. In December 2015, a guest reported their locked suitcase was forced open and valuables taken, also during that stay three other groups of foreigners had been targeted.

Two housekeeping staff were detained but because the complainant had left the country and didn’t file a case the two suspects were released. They allegedly were working again at the resort after that incident.

So add our story to the list and we have 6 incidents in 8 months.”

Several screenshots of previous negative TripAdvisor reviews about the resort were posted in the page to substantiate the claim.

The most recent of which, prior to the Feb. 13 incident, was posted by user coolpig on Jan. 2, 2016 detailing their experience during their Dec. 2015 stay.

“We spend [spent] 5 days at this hotel and our room [w]as broken into along with three other western couples in less than 24 hours of our arrival. This would appear to be an ongoing problem. It would appear that western travellers are the target and it is suggested that the hotels cleaning staff are a problem. (2 were arrested over this incident). There are no safety despot [deposit] boxes in the rooms and we locked our valuables in a suitcase, thinking this would be safe, however the locks were forced and valuables take. (laptops, iPad, money etc). It was after the robbery that we discovered that the reception had a safe and we could have used that. It was a very upsetting experience and made the rest of our stay very unsettling. The hotel staff where very helpful in organising transport to the police and court office and we did notice that CCTV camera where [were] being installed/repaired the next day. We are told by the police at [that] the room we stayed in was robbed 3 months ago. It would appear that the rooms at risk are the superior rooms that have a full lake view.”

Another review by user shelley M dated July 7, 2015 also recounted a burglary during their stay.

“Three rooms booked as a group of 15 students. All three rooms broken into during breakfast stealing 11 iPhones, 2 iPads and lots of money. Resort took no responsibility and gave minimal assistance. No security cameras, guards were seen drunk. We believe that rooms were stalked out from the night before. STAY AWAY.”

After Jones created the Facebook page previous victims have come forward to impart their experiences.

Meanwhile, exactly a week after the alleged burglary took place, a source told SecurityMatters that the reviews posted by victims on TripAdvisor have since been eclipsed by positive reviews about the resort.

“We got information that management contacted bloggers for a press conference; possibly to counter all the negative publicity they [the resort] are getting,” the source said.

SecurityMatters tried to verify if there was indeed a press conference held recently at Club Balai Isabel but calls to both the resort’s Makati and Batangas offices have not been answered.

No Security Cameras

Of the burglary incidents mentioned, victims noted that CCTV cameras were either non-existent, just being repaired/installed following incident, or broken during their respective stays.

Sources close to the Aquino family disclosed that immediately upon discovery of the burglary, they asked to see the CCTV footage. The resort management allegedly agreed to the request, affirming that CCTV cameras in the resort are “fully functional.” However, management later on said the cameras have been out of order since Typhoon Glenda ravaged Southern Luzon in 2014.

While the law mandating the installation of security cameras in business establishments have been enacted in most cities and municipalities around the country, the CCTV Act of 2012 has not been ratified.

SecurityMatters welcomes the side of Club Balai Isabel management on this matter.