The complaint of Gracia Palicas last Wednesday against online content platform Nas Daily supposedly “scamming” her grandmother, the cultural icon Whang-Od, has inspired another complaint, this time directed towards the man behind Nas Daily, the Arab Israeli vlogger Nuseir Yassin.
She said: The view from Louise
On Thursday afternoon, Louise de Guzman Mabulo, described online as a chef, farmer and social entrepreneur, published an account of her experience with Nas Daily’s Yassin when he visited her family’s farm in San Fernando, Camarines Sur in 2019. Yassin was set to film a story on The Cacao Project.
The Cacao Project is an initiative of Mabulo to help farmers get back on their feet following the destruction Typhoon Nina wrought on Bicol agriculture in 2016. According to its website, the project aims to provide “participating farmers of San Fernando with cacao seedlings” as well as short term crops, training, and whatever resources they would need to improve their livelihoods.
Mabulo during that time had not only heard of Nas Daily, she was a huge fan. When she met the man behind the vlog, however, he wasn’t at all what she expected.
“My family took him and other content creators in as welcome guests— with typical hospitality we are known for,” wrote Mabulo. “However in so little time, I was disappointed to learn that the man I’d looked up to for years was not the bearer of good news he’d misled his followers to believe he was.”
Mabulo recalled the details of his visit. She said Yassin mocked the accent of the San Fernando locals and repeatedly used the word “poor” to refer to the farmers of her hometown and Filipinos in general. On top of that, according to Mabulo, Yassin dismissed their story as not “clickable.” It was not what he was looking for. “He was disappointed that my work wasn’t the perfectly packaged story he’d pre-determined and imagined.”
Mabulo was disappointed as well, meeting the famous vlogger and being turned off by his attitude. “He didn’t care about making change or shedding light on real issues— he only wanted content, a good, easy story to tell that would get him more Filipino views,” wrote Mabulo. “He even joked at the start of the day that all he needed was to put ‘Philippines’ in the title, and he’d rack in millions of views and the comments would come flooding with brainless ‘Pinoy pride’ comments.”
He said: Yassin’s letter to Louise
We wrote Nas Daily a request for an interview to get their side of the story but after a few hours, a statement from Yassin had already surfaced on Facebook, a direct response to Mabulo’s calling out.
Yassin said he was so inspired by the young Filipina’s story that he flew in from Singapore to Camarines Sur just to do the feature. “We wanted to go the extra mile for you,” went the Arab Israeli’s reply. “We spent 2 days flying and we were very excited for your story of how you ‘revolutionised the cacao industry in your province’ according to the Internet.”
What Yassin said he discovered, however, was that The Cacao Project he read about was different from the one he saw on ground. “Once we arrived at your plantation, once we saw the village and talked to the farmers, we came to the conclusion that there is no story here. That the awards on the Internet are just that...awards,” wrote Yassin. “Our investigation has made it clear that your story in the media is false. And that there are no ‘200 farmers’ that you work with, and there are no Cacao plantations that you don't personally profit from.”
From Yassin’s narrative, the two parties parted ways amicably. “When we told you in person that we believe your story is not true, you understood us and you bid us farewell,” the vlogger said. “We thanked you for your time and your hospitality and we went back to the airport. In fact, we took nice pictures with your family before we left.”
Which sounds a lot different from the atmosphere Mabulo’s words painted in her post. “My family received no greetings nor any thanks from him when we’d received him into our home, going on to say we were only wasting his time. He refused to eat food my mum had spent the whole morning preparing for him knowing that he’d be tired or hungry…At the end of the day, I was exhausted, I had no patience left, and I’d worn out every last dreg of my tolerance.”
Mabulo said she was honest with Nas Daily from the get-go. “I was fully transparent on our phone call that I didn’t think my work would be something he’d be able to visualise, and that there’s too many factors to the work I do that wouldn’t possibly be covered in under a minute— and that maybe it would come to be the kind of content he wanted in five years time, but not now,” Mabulo wrote. “In his story, he assumed that I’d replaced coconuts with cacao— when in reality, this was unrealistic and absurd, and not the goal of my venture, which is to diversify income streams for farmers.”
Dad says: From the Mayor
After Yassin’s written response, Fermin Mabulo, the Mayor of San Fernando, came to his daughter’s defense with his own post. While he used to be a fan like his daughter, he said Yassin was full of himself and was arrogant during their meeting, and they have since unfollowed him on social media.
Recounting the events as he remembered them, he said Yassin got in touch with Louise in 2019 asking if he could feature her in his vlog.
“Louise asked what he wanted to show since her venture is still just starting, her cacao trees are still on a flowering stage and we have nothing much to show,” said the Mayor. “He said he needed content so he insisted on coming over and since we were then huge fans of his daily videos, we agreed for him to come over.”
According to Mr. Mabulo, during breakfast at the Avenue Plaza Hotel in Camarines Sur, Yassin was already trying to come up with a script even when he had yet to see the farm to be featured. “Louise told him to see the farm first because his script may not be consistent with the reality on the ground.”
Yassin wanted to present Louise as The “Chocolate Lady from the Philippines” but the lady has a different proposition. “Louise wanted to highlight the farmers and not just herself,” wrote Mr. Mabulo. “But Nas said ‘who cares about the farmers?’” This was when the Mabulos lost interest in the feature. “He even said to me ‘Mr Mayor we have a problem! We do not have content!’ I replied ‘we dont have a problem, you have a problem.’”
Friend says: Enter Project Nightfall
By now so many things have been said and heard and not only from Louise Mabulo, Nuseir Yassin and Mayor Fermin Mabulo. There was a post from a former classmate of Louise, and there was a post from someone who worked very closely with Yassin, among others. Agon Hare, or more popularly known as Project Nightfall, has also said his piece after receiving negative comments on social media. Also a content creator, Hare was with Yassin when they visited Mabulo in 2019, set on doing a feature on Louise as well. He denied the accusations about his friend Yassin mouthing offensive words during their time with the Mabulos.
"The video about Louise was one of the biggest surprises I have ever experienced on my journey,” he said in his statement. He recalled that the day of their visit started quite well and that he found Louise Mabulo to be, while a tad shy, very smart and had great energy. He also said the trees in the cocoa plantation she invited them to were beautiful.
“But the moment we left her plantation, we started facing a lot of problems,” said Hare. “Her program was meant to help farmers grow cocoa trees, instead of coconut trees, so they can make more money, and so we went to see farmers growing these trees! But the problem was that they were all dying. Tiny, dying trees. They looked nothing like those around Louise's plantation from one farmer to another farmer.”
Hare said they drove a few hours and didn’t find a single healthy tree. “And that's when we faced the dilemma. That was so tough!" he said.
In closing: Update from Louise
Meanwhile, Louise Mabulo had a follow up post addressed to Nas Daily, following the latter’s statement. “I’m not sorry to say we’re doing well, and launching our own chocolates soon,” she said. “Our farmers are well and real, and are either blissfully unaware of you, or enjoying this exchange over a cup of hot chocolate or coconut water. I will not take advice nor criticism, especially when you clearly don’t understand Filipino farming and culture, or refuse to.”
To end, Mabulo brought the issue back to where it started, the post of Gracia Palicas about her grandmother. “This is about Apo Whang-Od and what you’ve done to her Tribe,” said the chef and entrepreneur, touching on the allegations of exploitation against Nas Academy, Yassin’s educational platform. Nas Academy was supposed to have an online pay-to-view video tutorial on tattooing with Whang-Od as teacher. It has since been taken down after the complaint of Palicas.
The National Commission on Indigenous Peoples (NCIP) in the Cordillera Administrative Region (CAR) will be looking at the supposed contract Whang-Od was seen affixing her thumbprint to in a video released by Nas Academy. Marlon Basantog of the NCIP-CAR assured the public in a Facebook post that "appropriate intervention is initiated" and that the commission will investigate if there was indeed informed consent between the two parties.