Filipino artists

Photojournalist on Nas Daily issue: Uphold cultural rights if intent is pure

Victor Barreiro Jr.

Rappler file photo

'Cultural education and innovation is good – but not when it leaves culture bearers at a disadvantage,' photojournalist Jilson Tiu says

Photojournalist Jilson Tiu weighed in on the controversy surrounding Nuseir Yassin, the Nas Academy, and mambabatok Whang-Od on Tuesday, August 10.

Tiu was recently in the news after backing out of the controversial Canon “Crusaders of Light” campaign following the lack of gender diversity in its lineup.

In a post on Instagram, Tiu reminded people to work towards “safeguarding heritage and promoting cultural literacy that goes beyond surface-level.”

Tiu acknowledged COVID-19 made online learning more commonplace and needed in this day, and Nas Academy emerged from that. Nas Academy promised an “in-depth workshop with cultural treasure Apo Whang-Od, the famed mambabatok of Buscalan.”

“Through this workshop, remote learners will supposedly be taught all about pagbabatok, the dying art of hand-tapping tattoo designs significant to the indigenous peoples of northern Philippines,” Tiu said.

Whang-Od’s grandniece, Grace Palicas, called the course a “scam,” while Yassin meanwhile insisted Whang-Od consented to the course being done.

Tiu thus asked questions of those involved: “How could a project of this scale reach its launch without such crucial details ironed out? Does mutual respect have a place in one-sided understanding?”

Tiu explained, “Exploitation happens in many forms, and if intentions are pure, parties collaborating with indigenous peoples should uphold cultural and intellectual rights as well as free and prior informed consent.”

A surface-level understanding of the situation, as Tiu might put it, would thus disadvantage Whang-Od and her community at large.

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“Before we promote any culture, we must first protect it. Cultural education and innovation is good – but not when it leaves culture bearers at a disadvantage,” Tiu added. –

Victor Barreiro Jr.

Victor Barreiro Jr is part of Rappler's Central Desk. An avid patron of role-playing games and science fiction and fantasy shows, he also yearns to do good in the world, and hopes his work with Rappler helps to increase the good that's out there.