May 29, 2024


All’s well that ends well with world-renowned traditional tattooist Whang-od and international learning platform, Nas Academy, following reconciliation talks among parties that include the elders and leaders of the Butbut community in Buscalan, Tinglayan, Kalinga recently.
We commend all the parties involved in this reconciliation and healing process led by the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples for carrying out its mandate of protecting the welfare and interest of indigenous peoples and indigenous cultural communities (ICC) that are vulnerable to some forms of exploitation.
We also commend the Nas Academy for owning up to its mistake when it acknowledged that the art of traditional Kalinga tattooing is not solely practiced by Whang-od, or the Butbut ethnic group, but it is shared across the multiple IPs and ICCs in Kalinga.
The declaration of the contract supposedly entered into between Whang-od and Nas Academy as null and void is a testament that one of the concerned parties is sincere in the reconciliation and healing process and wants to strive for truth and fairness in all its endeavors.
But we hope it doesn’t end there.
The incident even gave Cordillerans, especially the concerned agencies and our leaders, more reasons to safeguard the welfare of IPs and ICCs from any form of commercialization and exploitation.
The case of Whang-od is a precedent as to how foreigners and private individuals or groups should respect indigenous knowledge systems and practices (IKSP) in the highlands.
In fairness to the Nas Academy, it made it clear it did not intend to breach protocols but wanted to share Whang-od’s talent to the world. But the problem arose when Nas Academy appeared to be unaware of the rights of the IPs and ICCs, who are stakeholders of the traditional Kalinga tattooing.
Republic Act 8371, or the Indigenous Peoples Rights Act (IPRA), acknowledges that IPs and ICCs have the right to special measures to control, develop, and protect their sciences, technologies, and cultural manifestations, including their IKSP.
With this, we call on the NCIP to walk the extra mile in raising the awareness of the public, especially those who have the intention to feature the IKSP of any community in the region, that they must first coordinate with the agency for proper guidance.
It is the NCIP’s mandate to vet individuals or groups that intend to highlight the distinct IKSP of the IPs so as to avoid exploitation from happening.
There is so much more that needs to be done when it comes to educating the public of the rights of IP that’s why we also call on the NCIP to take it to heart to push for programs raising public awareness of the rights of IPs and for the public to respect these rights.
We also call on the provincial government of Kalinga, in coordination with the elders and leaders, to set guidelines for the communities to follow so as to prevent a repeat of signing questionable agreements that would exploit the IPs and ICCs in the future.
In all fairness, it is through Whang-od’s popularity that has helped bring livelihood to her community in Buscalan and her unapparelled skill in traditional tattooing made her small village known to the world. Thus, it takes the whole of the IPs of the region to also protect her image from exploitation because her image reflects the culture and aspirations of the Cordillerans.
As we conclude the Indigenous Peoples’ Month celebration, let it be more than just a celebration of the vibrancy of the distinct cultures of the IPs in the country, but it should also be a platform especially for the government and private agencies to respect the rights of IPs and ICCs by providing protection for them from any form of abuse or exploitation.
Let us not simply celebrate the IP Month and uphold IPs’ rights when it is convenient for us, but we must strive to help the IPs advance their rights, as their well-being and future also depend directly on the policies and practices of the government and private sector.