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NCIP: Apo Whang-Od Not Aware Of Online Learning Platform; Nas Academy Belies Findings

NCIP: Apo Whang-Od Not Aware Of Online Learning Platform; Nas Academy Belies Findings
Traditional Kalinga tattoo artist Apo Whang-Od during the Philippines' premier design and lifestyle sourcing trade show dubbed as the Manila FAME, at the World Trade Center in Pasay City on Oct. 20, 2017. Whang-Od was invited to display her artistry at the bi-annual trade show organized by the Center for International Trade Expositions and Missions, the export promotions arm of the Philippine Department of Trade and Industry. Photo by Miguel de Guzman, The Philippine STAR Photo by Miguel de Guzman, The Philippine STAR

Maria Oggay, popularly known as “Apo Whang-Od,” was not aware that she would teach the Kalinga art of tattooing in Nas Academy, an online creator school of video blogger Nuseir Yassin, the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples (NCIP) said in its findings.

In a statement released on Sunday night, Aug. 29,  the NCIP said Nas Academy was not able to get Apo Whang-Od’s consent. It noted the findings came following due review of the contract and personal interview with the family and other persons involved.

Nas Academy is a Singapore startup that builds out a platform for creators to monetize their knowledge, giving them the tools to create their own classes and academies that fans can attend online.

According to NCIP, the investigation was held last Aug. 17 headed by its Cordillera Administrative Region (CAR) regional director, lawyer Marlon Bosantog.

Contrary to the claim of Nas Academy that the content of the agreement was translated before Whang-Od affixed her thumbprint, the NCIP said the Filipina tattoo artist was not aware of it and she did not affix her thumbmark in any contract.

The NCIP emphasized that no provision of the contract was explained or discussed to her or to her representative. It added that the assurances given to Whang-Od was external to the terms of the contract.

“When the validation team compared the thumbmark affixed by Apo Whang-Od in the contract to that of one she affixed in a clean piece of paper, there is apparent disparity. The same is now the subject of further forensic study,” it said.

The NCIP added that the contract was “grossly onerous” on the part of the 104-year-old mambabatok or traditional tattooist from Buscalan, Tinglayan, Kalinga.

“The contract states that the Nas Academy has exclusive ownership of any content that the show would produce including the likeness, image, voice, (et cetera) of Apo Whang-Od and such ownership is in perpetuity, inclusive of the right alteration and the right to assign and transfer the same without consent,” the NCIP said.

“Furthermore, the law of Singapore shall govern the said contract,” it stated.

‘Not true’

In response, the Nas Academy Philippines on Monday, Aug. 30, belied the findings of NCIP, saying they were not given the chance to explain its side before arriving at a conclusion.

“This is not how a fair investigation is held. Both sides must be heard to reach a fair and informed conclusion,” the Nas Academy said in a statement, noting that they were ready to cooperate with the NCIP in its investigation.

The online creator school said it was not true that Whang-Od’s consent was not obtained and that she did not affix her signature. It added that it was also not true that the contract was not discussed with her.

It noted that they engaged the services of a local Filipino production company, known for the projects on indigenous peoples, to produce the online course.

“Under our agreement, they (local production company) were expected to conduct due diligence and comply with all requirements mandated by Philippine law. We were assured that their group would coordinate with Whang-Od, her family, and their community,” the Nas Academy explained.

The contract, the Nas Academy reiterated, was presented and translated to Whang-Od by her niece, Estela Baydon Palangdao, in the presence of Rudy (brother of Whang-Od), husband of Estela (biological nephew of Whang-Od), two other members of their tribe as well as Agosto, a tour guide and tourism officer.

It stressed that the contents of the agreement had been explained to Whang-Od by the local production team with the help of Estela and it was only after the permission was granted by the family, that the filming started.

On the claim of NCIP that the contract was onerous, the online academy said they indicated a 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.”

“The contract’s terms are standard for all Nas Academy agreements, containing fair and legally sound terms that are fair to both parties,” it noted.

NCIP recommendations

The NCIP recommended that Nas Daily seek the consent of the community if it involves the indigenous knowledge system and practices of the community, as provided under the Indigenous Peoples Rights Act.

The NCIP also urged the proponents or researchers to notify the concerned agencies such as them and the local government unit before conducting any activities within the ancestral domain.

Should Whang-Od and/or the community pursue legal actions against Nas Academy, the NCIP assured the public that it will provide legal assistance.

“Visitors who are dealing with Apo Whang-Od must be culturally sensitive and shall exert proper and due diligence considering her stature as a culture bearer of the community,” the NCIP said.

“Policy considerations and legislative adjustments are required in order to protect and preserve indigenous intellectual property rights,” it added.

The controversy involving Whang-Od erupted early this August after a viral post of Whang-Od’s relative, saying the Filipina tattoo artist did not know the agreement and that the Nas Academy is a scam.

Nas Academy is a one-stop online academy across 140 countries, with highly engaging courses about content creation, design, art, business, cryptocurrency, journalism and many more.

Aside from Whang-Od, Miss Universe 2018 Catriona Gray, award-winning broadcast journalist Jessica Soho, Dubai-based couturier Michael Cinco, celebrity chef Erwan Heusaff, pop singer Moira Dela Torre, and wealth management guru Chinkee Tan were among the Filipinos tapped to create courses for the online platform.

On Aug. 8, Gray, through her management Cornerstone Entertainment, said that she and the Nas Academy agreed to stop accepting new applicants for her course until the issue related to Whang-Od has been fully resolved.

While Soho already withdrew from the online creator school on Aug. 9 amid the controversy, saying it was a mutual decision.

After receiving backlash from Filipinos amid the issue, Nas Daily’s Facebook page followers dropped by more than 600,000 in less than a week. As of Monday, the page has 20,278,012 Facebook followers.