Senate nominates Whang-od for National Living Treasures Award

Camille Elemia

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Senate nominates Whang-od for National Living Treasures Award
Also known as the Gawad sa Manlilikha ng Bayan, the award is the highest honor given by the state to traditional folk artists

MANILA, Philippines – Without objections, the Senate adopted a resolution nominating Whang-od Oggay for the Gawad sa Manlilikha ng Bayan (Gamaba) or the National Living Treasures Award, the highest honor given by the state to traditional folk artists.

Senators Nancy Binay and Juan Edgardo Angara sponsored Senate Resolution Nos. 2 and 538, respectively.

The measure recognizes Whang-od as the only surviving Kalinga traditional tattoo artist with the distinguished title of “mambabatok” or a master tattooist of “batek,” the folk skin inscriptions of Kalinga.

“The continuity of the batek is anchored on the well-being of Whang-od being the last living mambabatok, which necessitates immediate action to preserve the folk art considering Whang-od’s advanced age,” reads the resolution.

“The batek survived centuries of foreign influences. The traditional Filipino tattoo art must not disappear and turn extinct due to mere negligence to preserve a significant feature of Philippine culture and identity.”

Batek, according to the resolution, is traditional body art “distinctively known for its symmetric and intricate designs that detail the valor and bravery of ancient tribal warriors, and is customarily applied through a hand-tapped pricking method using intrinsic instruments such as carabao horns and fruit thorns.”

“Bestowing Whang-od the Gamaba or the National Living Treasures Award does not only recognize the beauty and grace of the ancient art of tattooing, but also ensures that such Filipino heritage will survive and continue to exist, her contribution to her native craft, as well as the rarity of her situation, should not go unrecognized, and warrants nomination from this august body,” Binay said.

“It is only proper to nominate Whang-od for the Gamaba or the National Living Treasures Award for her exceptional embodiment of the Filipino’s rich heritage, not only to honor her and similar individuals who contribute and enrich the Filipino cultural identity and history, but also to preserve and to further promote traditional folk arts for the benefit of future generations,” Angara said.

The National Living Treasures Award was institutionalized in April 1992 through Republic Act No. 7355.

It is conferred upon “a Filipino citizen or group of Filipino citizens engaged in any traditional art uniquely Filipino, whose distinctive skills have reached such a high level of technical and artistic excellence and have been passed on to and widely practiced by the present generations in his/her community with the same degree of technical and artistic competence.”

Aside from plaques and medals, an awardee will also be given an initial grant of P100,000 and P10,000 per month for life. –

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Camille Elemia

Camille Elemia is a former multimedia reporter for Rappler. She covered media and disinformation, the Senate, the Office of the President, and politics.