MANILA - The National Commission on Indigenous Peoples (NCIP) on Sunday released its findings on its review of the contract allegedly signed by traditional tattoo artist Whang-Od with the online learning platform Nas Academy.
In a Facebook post, the agency said NCIP-CAR Regional Director Marlon Bosantog personally interviewed Whang-od, whose full name is Maria Oggay, about the contract.
Bosantog also interviewed Whang-od's family and the elders and leaders of the community.
Based on its review, the NCIP found that "Whang-od did not consent or was made aware to teach the art of traditional tattooing in Nas Academy."
Whang-od also said she was not aware of any contract nor did she affix her thumb mark on any contract.
"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 also said.
Stella Palangdao, the representative of Whang-od, also told NCIP that the provisions of the contract were not explained to them, and that they were only made to sign the contract of filming, interview, photography and the release of these.
The NCIP asserted that the contract was grossly onerous to Whang-od.
"The contract states that the Nas Academy has exclusive ownership of any content that the show would produce including the likeness, image, voice, etc. 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. Furthermore, the law of Singapore shall govern said contract," the agency said.
The validation team also found apparent disparity between the thumb mark affixed by Whang-od on the contract, and the one that she affixed on a clean piece of paper.
"The same is now the subject of further forensic study," the NCIP said.
The community elders, according to the NCIP, believe that teaching the art of traditional tattooing in an online platform would render it generic and "thus, it would lose its authenticity and cultural meaning."
"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," the NCIP explained.
Following the incident, the NCIP said the consent of the community must be sought in case any interview or filming will involve the Indigenous Knowledge System and Practices of the community.
Researchers must also notify the NCIP and the respective local government units before conducting any activities within the ancestral domain.
The NCIP also said it will provide legal assistance to Whang-od and the community should they decide to pursue legal actions against Nas Academy.
"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 also said.
The NCIP conducted its investigation following allegations of exploitation by Nas Academy founder and vlogger Nuseir Yassein, more popularly known as Nas Daily.
Earlier this month, Whang-Od's grandniece, Grace Palicas, called out Nas Academy for being a "scam," saying that the traditional tattoo artist did not sign any contract to do the course. Her Facebook posts have since been deleted.
In response, Nas Academy uploaded a video of Whang-Od affixing her thumbprint on a document, which was said to be her contract for a tattoo course on the online learning platform.
Nas Academy later announced it would pause its operations in the Philippines amid the controversy.