Nas Academy still insists it got Whang-Od’s consent

Embattled on-demand video learning platform Nas Academy denied Monday, August 30, the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples - Cordillera Administrative Region's (NCIP-CAR) findings that alleged an “onerous” contract between the online company and the traditional tattoo artist Apo Whang-Od.

In a statement on its Facebook page, the Nas Academy said it was “not true” that it failed to get Whang-Od’s consent and that it did not discuss the contract with her.

Nas Academy, a platform founded by vlogger Nuseir Yassin aka Nas Daily, had been under fire following criticism that its course which offered to teach the ancient art of tattooing was a “scam.”

“To produce the Whang-Od Academy, we engaged the services of a local production company, known for the projects they produce on Indigenous Peoples. Under our agreement, they 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,” it said in a statement.

In an August 5 statement, where it also insisted that it got Whang-Od’s consent, Nas Academy did not mention tapping the services of a “local production company, known for the projects they produce on Indigenous Peoples.”

That August 5 post was released after Whang-Od’s grandniece, traditional tattoo artist Grace Palicas, first called out Nas Academy. In response to Palicas, the platform posted a video that showed Whang-Od affixing her thumb mark on the supposed contract

“We spent 2 full days filming with Whang-Od and Estela. There were more than 7 people involved in this process, and Estela set-up a bank account to receive the funds from the project. It is very very hard for Whang-Od Academy to exist without the consent of Whang-Od and her family,” Nas Academy said.

“The Nas Academy Contract 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. As shown in a portion of the video which we released, you can see that Whang-Od affixed her thumbprint on the contract, only after the contents had been explained to her by the local Filipino production team with the help of Estela. It was only after the permission was granted by the family, that the filming started,” the statement read, referring to the August 5 statement.

Nas Academy had earlier been criticized by experts for missing a major provision in Philippine law – that since the ancient art of tattooing is part of the Butbut tribe’s culture, permission and consent must come from the tribe’s elders and leaders, and not just Whang-Od herself.

Nas Academy also denied the NCIP-CAR’s finding that the contract – which the government agency noted would be under Singaporean laws – was “onerous” towards Whang-Od.

“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. 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, without posting the contract itself. 

The online group also criticized the NCIP-CAR, a government office tasked to protect the rights of and further the interests of Indigenous Peoples, for not allowing it to “explain their side before arriving at a conclusion and releasing a statement.”

“This is not how a fair investigation is held. Both sides must be heard to reach a fair and informed conclusion,” the statement read.

The NCIP-CAR, led by its regional chief, visited the Butbut tribe in Buscalan on August 17 to review the contract and interview the tribe’s leaders, Whang-Od’s family, and Whang-Od herself.

The platform, which has since paused operations in the Philippines, added: “We regret the inconvenience made to the public. We think this issue is the result of internal disputes that are outside of our control. That being said, we remain committed to our mission in the Philippines.” – Rappler.com