Was it just two days ago that the Filipino online community had their pitchforks out, ready to have Nuseir Yassin’s digital head on a pike? Since then, the Philippine online community has just erupted in a frenzy of hot takes and allegations, followed by counter-allegations, and—thankfully—a nascent conversation about our need for Western validation.
Over the past couple of days, the issue has taken over Philippine Facebook and Twitter, overtaking any comments Metro Manilans may have about our return to Enhanced Community Quarantine status.
So, a recap (deep breath): Nas Academy, the masterclass offshoot of Nas Daily, put up page for Whang-Od Academy, an online course featuring videos of traditional tattoo artist Whang-Od, but was forced to take it down after Grace Palicas called them out for allegedly failing to secure Whang-Od’s fully informed consent.
After both the Whang-Od Academy and Grace Palicas’ post were taken offline, Nas Daily replied with a statement that emphasized both their love for the Philippines and the fact that nearly half the Nas Daily team was made up of Filipinos.
That was just the beginning of the all-out war on the content creator, however, as social entrepreneur Louise Mabolo called out Nas Daily for its “neocolonialist narratives” as she recounted her own experience trying to shoot a one-minute Nas Daily video for the content creator. This was supported by a post from her father, the mayor of San Fernando in Camarines Sur.
Nas Daily wasn’t going to let that be the last word, however. In an uncharacteristically un-cheery post on the Nas Daily Tagalog Facebook page, the digital juggernaut countered Louise’s version of the events with their own pretty serious allegations.
“I have also kept my silence for 2 years out of respect to you. But I can’t let you share falsehoods on the Internet for free,” the apparently personal message from Yassin begins. “To my biggest sadness and surprise, your story was not true on the 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…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.”
Nas Daily feels so strongly about Mabulo’s story that they went on the offense first before bothering to breathe a word of defense. Calling The Cacao Project “fake news” is pretty serious, even if the post does end with, “Hopefully one day, I can come back and tell your story again. You are, after all, an inspiring individual.”
However, more voices have added to the conversation, in the Facebook equivalent of the Spider-man meme. Notably there was a former classmate who dove straight into the fray, calling out Louise’s call out and going after her agricultural cred:
Is that the end of that? Oh, my sweet summer child, it is not. Another post, apparently from someone who also works in the agricultural industry, called out the call out to the call out.
There’s another reply to that (of course), but let’s abandon that thread to get back to the original aggrieved party, Whang-Od, and the issue of her contract with Nas Academy. Marlon Bosantog, a lawyer who serves as the regional director of the National Commission on Indigenous People for the Cordillera Autonomous Region, presented his legal opinion, pointing out that “the Kalinga community had made known their claim on certain tattoo designs as belonging to the entire Indigenous Community…Indigenous Peoples have Intellectual Property claims to cultural expressions and there are issues of cultural intellectual property that intersect in the art of Apo Whang-od.”
And so, he says, “Bandying on social media a contract is not a proof of compliance. The NCIP will make our review and onsite validation and interview, whether the Free, Prior, and Informed Consent process should have then implemented on this incident.”
The same issue is explained more at length by Prof Nestor Castro, an anthropologist with the University of the Philippines, who agrees with Atty Bosantog’s legal opinion about the shared ownership of the Butbut people’s cultural heritage. “Whang-od is not just an individual artist but she is also a member of the Butbut Tribe of Kalinga. Her skill on the art of traditional tattooing is derived from the indigenous knowledge of generations of Kalinga ancestors,” he writes. “Thus, the consent of the members of the Butbut is necessary if this knowledge is to be shared to outsiders.”
Thankfully, Whang-Od’s complaints are addressed, but there is another comment from the sidelines that deserves attention. This post from “Lost Juan”, an aspiring vlogger following in his friend Nas’s footsteps, is a more personal take on the matter.
Lost Juan recounted his experience at the shoot with Louise Mabulo—and about his larger experience with Nas Daily in general. Writing in Filipino, Lost Juan narrates his long friendship with Yassin, beginning in 2017 when “he was not so popular that time”. Though he pretty much confirms that “we arrived to nothing that we were expecting to see [in San Fernando, just seedlings and small cacao plants.”
But he also recounts the many times he helped Nas Daily out: “I even decided to paint my whole apartment with his mural and many more just to welcome him back in our country…It came to the point that I was asked to leave my place of residence because most of the videos we made, when we needed a lot of people, were done at my place because the parking lot was spacious in our place in Makati.”
“I don’t demand a debt of gratitude, but really—? The first million views in the Philippines was for the ‘How Cheap is the Philippines’ and I helped him out a lot [for that]. And there were a lot of viral videos that followed. All in all, he changed a lot, and I don’t recognize him as the friend I knew before,” Lost Juan concludes.
And that’s more than one minute, folks.
UPDATE// 6 August, 4:06pm: This story has been updated to include the post from Professor Nestor Castro.