January 29, 2023

Making the art of traditional tattooing of Kalinga available to everyone using online platforms makes it generic and lose its authenticity and cultural meaning.
This was the general sentiment of the elders of Buscalan, Tinglayan, where Apo Whang-od resides, during a dialogue with the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples-Cordillera and Whang-od to shed light on the alleged contract made by the Nas Academy and the tattoo artist.
NCIP-Cordillera said the art of tattooing is a cultural expression and it is practiced by the indigenous cultural communities of Kalinga.
Earlier, the Nas Academy, which is a digital learning platform led by Nuseir Yassin best known as “Nas Daily”, has included Whang-od to teach the traditional art of tattooing online by virtue of a contract it signed with the artist in the presence of her family members.
The contract, however, was questioned and labeled as illegal by Whang-od’s grandniece, Grace Palicas, prompting the Nas Academy to remove the tattoo artist from its lineup.
“This would also discourage the next generation to learn and carry on with the tradition. The online platform can also lead to the demise of their culture-driven tourism industry. This is the sentiment and collective affirmation of the elders and traditional leaders during the dialogue,” NCIP-Cordillera said in a press statement.
NCIP-Cordillera Director Marlon Bosantog went to Buscalan and talked with the residents and Whang-od and he found out the tattoo artist did not consent to teach the Kalinga art of tattooing in Nas Academy.
“Apo Whang-od is not aware of any contract and she did not affix her thumb mark in any contract for this account. No provision of the contract was explained or discussed to her or to her representative, or what was assured of her is external to the terms of the contract,” the NCIP-Cordillera statement added.
The NCIP-Cordillera also noted the contract was unfair on the part of Whang-od since it states the Nas Academy has exclusive ownership of any content that the show would produce. This includes the likeness, image, voice, etc. of Whang-od where they will own it in “perpetuity, inclusive of the right alteration and the right to assign and transfer the same without consent.”
The law of Singapore shall also govern the contract.
The representative of Whang-od, Stella Palangdao, said the provisions of the contract were not explained to them by representatives of Nas Academy except that they were made to sign the contract of filming, interview, photography and release of the materials.
Forensic study is ongoing on the legitimacy of the thumb mark affixed by Whang-od on the contract. 
The NCIP-Cordillera has recommended the consent of the community must first be sought when it comes to its indigenous knowledge systems and practices such as the art of tattooing.
All researchers or proponents must go through the NCIP and the local government units concerned before conducting any activity within the ancestral domain.
“Should Apo Whang-od and/or the community pursue legal actions, NCIP will provide legal assistance,” it stated.
The NCIP also reminded visitors dealing with Whang-od “must be culturally sensitive and shall exert proper and due diligence considering her stature as a culture bearer of the community.”
The agency said policies and legislative adjustments must be made in order to protect and preserve the indigenous intellectual property rights of the community.
The Nas Academy has denied the NCIP-Cordillera report, as it stood its ground that the contract was signed and fully discussed with Whang-od and her niece Palangdao, who acted as interpreter.
“The contract specifically provided that Whang-od will receive shared revenue from the income generated from the project. As proof, her niece Estela opened a bank account where the proceeds from this project would be sent,” it stated.
It said the contract’s terms are standard for all Nas Academy agreements, containing fair and legally sound terms that are fair to both parties.
Nas Academy said it is ready to cooperate with the NCIP in its investigation but called out the agency for not giving its representatives a chance to explain their side before releasing a statement. – Ofelia C. Empian