The Unfinished Mystery of Fantasy World in Batangas
The darkening crevices and peeling paint are showing signs of age, but the Bavarian-inspired castle on a hill a few hours away from Metro Manila is suprisingly holding up well, a colorful symbol of possibility and, still, hope that one day the roller coasters would start running and the fortress would buzz with activity and there'd be throngs of people waiting to get in.
But for a place that’s supposedly “abandoned," Fantasy World over at Lemery, Batangas, is becoming quite a destination on its own. Visited by daredevil adventurers since the early 2010s and receiving renewed attention thanks to social media in the last couple of years, the “Philippine Disneyland”—or what could've been—manages to stay relevant despite never fulfilling its promise as a world class resort.
There is graffiti everywhere and a certain sense of eeriness (though not quite to the level of the abandoned parks in Japan), but diligent keepers have maintained its whimsical charm—albeit diminished. The interiors are clean and because the rides were installed much more recently (February 2017, according to this ABS-CBN report), they don’t look like they're about to break apart and cash on you.
According to the same report, the entire area was converted to a photo park to build revenue by property owners ECE Realty & Development. It’s currently managed by the neighborhood’s home owners association.
To take photos or simply to look around, the fee is P1,000 for every 10 people, but access to specific rooms cost extra (you need to pay an additional P300 to sit in the throne). If you want to take it to the next level, Fantasy World operates like a private club and offers lifetime membership packages for P187,000. This fee gives you unlimited access to the park and the exclusive clubhouse.
While it’s impressive how the owners were able to find a very thin silver lining from what could’ve been a total bust, we still have to ask ourselves what happened to this wasted opportunity to boost tourism?
Most reports vaguely note that construction for Fantasy World was halted when its Japanese businessman owner ran out of funds. However, according to other, more specific accounts, Fantasy World was built by its current owners ECE Realty & Development, hailed by Emilio Ching. In 2001, when the Philippine Star wrote about the 30-hectare project, it described ECE as a “100 percent Filipino-owned corporation which was incorporated on March 22, 1991 with the Security and Exchange Commission.”
Fantasy World, endorsed by the Department of Tourism, was designed to have a castle, main gate, access road—the former three were already finished when the article ran—a club house, a 504-room hotel, a chapel and rides. Budget was set for P1.0002 billion.
According to ABS-CBN which interviewed unnamed Fantasy World employees, operations ceased when Ching supposedly fell ill in the mid 2000s.
However, we recently learned that in August 2009, the SEC issued an Order of Suspension against Fantasy World for its “continuing failure…to comply with the disclosure requirements of SEC Form 12-1 in relation to Annex C of SRC Rule 12 and SRC Rule 68…despite considerable lapse of time and several extensions given.” The form requires the detailed description of the business, property, and registrant, as well as the financial and invest plan and operations of the project. The order gave Fantasy World a 60-day deadline to comply with the SEC requirements.
The suspension to sell stock most likely contributed to the loss of funds to finance the theme park.
A controversial developer, around the same time as Fantasy World was encountering troubles, Ching was already facing several charges over his Pasay-based condominium, Central Park (built in 1995). As early as the late 1990s, Central Park unit owners complained to the Housing and Land Use Regulatory Board for discovering that the building had been constructed in Pasay instead of the promised Makati. Actress Sharon Cuneta was even involved in the case because of an earlier real estate partnership with Ching. (In September 2017, a male resident of Central Park killed five people (including his girlfriend and veteran journalist Joel Palacios) and wounded several others in the building in a fit of rage. The extent of damage was attributed largely to the dearth of security.)
THE HLURB also sent various notices to the company for not following safety measures. Because of the apparent lack of fire alarms, smoke detectors, and sprinklers, two fires broke out in 2008. ECE and Ching failed to respond to the allegations, saying that Ching was ill.
There hasn't been any news about the future of Fantasy World, except that it's becoming quite a viable option for photoshoots. But if the rides were really built just early this year (and based on pictures dated 2016 and earlier, the fanciest installments were the hanging bridges and fountain), then there might be hope for something more.