Atty Marlon Bosantog, regional director of NCIP-CAR, wrote in a Facebook post on Thursday, August 5, that the commission “certainly celebrates the artistic expression of Apo Whang-od and will not stand in her capacity to enter into private contracts.” However, Bosantog reiterated that Indigenous Peoples have the rights to Intellectual Property over cultural expressions, and that there are issues of cultural intellectual property that intersect in the traditional tattoo art of world-renowned 104-year-old artist Apo Whang-Od.
On Wednesday, August 4, online learning platform The Nas Academy offered an online tattooing course by Whang-Od on their website for P750, which would “reveal all the rituals, tools, and methods for making traditional tattoos.” The course, which has since been taken down (temporarily), was called out by Whang-Od’s grandniece Grace Palicas as an exploitation of their culture and a “scam,” claiming that her grandmother did not sign any contract with Nas Daily. Palicas, in her “official” Facebook account, describes herself as “the granddaughter of Whang Od and considered as the successor mambabatok (traditional tattoo artist) in Buscalan, Kalinga in the Philippines.”
However, Nas Daily retorted that Whang-Od’s niece Estella Palangdao translated the project contract, and was present when the artist placed her thumbprint on it. They also included a video of the apparent contract-signing in their statement. Also visibly present in the video is another elderly and a lady speaking assisting Whang-Od in the thumbmarking, who was speaking in the local dialect.
Palicas deleted her controversial post while Nas Daily “temporarily” took down Apo Whang-Od Academy.
“Bandying on social media a contract is not a proof of compliance,” Bosantog wrote on Facebook. He said that the NCIP-CAR will make their own review and onsite validation and interview to determine whether the Free, Prior, and Informed Consent process should have been implemented in this incident.
The Free, Prior and Informed Consent (FPIC) is a specific right of indigenous peoples that allows them to give or withhold consent to any project that may affect them and/or their territories and communities. It is a process that is recognized in United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) and helps to protect indigenous populations’ ancestral lands, culture, and their right to participation.
In an earlier Facebook post, Bosantog said that they have already been made aware of the issue “surrounding our revered mababatok Apo Whang-od and a certain blogger.” They thanked the public for their immediate response and concern over the issue.
On Thursday, The NCIP-CAR Facebook page also shared photos of a 2020 resolution that affirms that any Kalinga tattoo pattern or design is part of the Kalinga community’s indigenous property and requires all interested entities who wish to make use of these patterns to secure prior consent.
They said the Kalinga Elders already made this announcement last year – that their tattoos, apart from being a cultural manifestation of their identity, is a collective property of the Kalinga ICCs.
“Obviously, this was not heard then, so we once again re-echo the same,” NCIP-CAR said.
“Ownership of such cultural manifestations is lodged to the community and to its race, and not to a single individual. Thus, prudence dictates securing prior consent from the community as recognition of their collective ownership before any appropriation can be made,” they added. They said that doing otherwise is a reduction of the sanctity of the Kalinga culture and identity into a mere brand.
Alma Sinumlag, a concerned member of the Butbut tribe also said in her Facebook post “We appreciate your appreciation of the Kalinga tattoo tradition… However, as part of the Butbut tribe, I would like to caution your institution that the Kalinga tattoo tradition does not only involve Whang-od. This tradition form part of our identity as a people (as Butbut tribe and as Kalinga people). I believe that this is a collective ownership and should have followed a free prior and informed consent (FPIC) not only from Whang-od and family but the whole tribe.”
In a statement, the Nas Academy claimed everyone involved was compensated “and for every sale the Whang-Od Academy generates, most of it went directly to her and her family. We just provided the technology and the marketing.”
They said they took down the Whang-Od course page “out of respect for her family…while we resolve any issues that have arisen from these falsehoods.”
From August 4 to August 6, over 306,900 users have unfollowed Nas Daily’s page, according to Facebook analytics tool CrowdTangle. Most of the unfollows happened on August 5 at 275,200.
The page dropped from 20.96 million followers a week ago to 20.68 million.
A 22-second video shown on a separate Nas Daily Tagalog page did little to appease netizens, with some saying that the company should have apologized to and discussed matters with Whang Od’s camp instead of pushing back against Palicas’ cries with the release of the video.
Whang-Od is revered as among the last living artists practicing the art of traditional Kalinga tattooing – a hand-tapped method using thorns and charcoal for ink. In 2018, the National Commission for Culture and The Arts (NCCA) gave her the Dangal ng Haraya Award for Intangible Cultural Heritage.
Nas Academy was launched in 2020, initially as a platform for content creators to sell their knowledge through online courses. They have since expanded their course offerings, and recently included courses taught by the likes of broadcast journalist Jessica Soho and Miss Universe 2018 Catriona Gray. / Rappler.com and The Junction News