By Vina Medenilla
A Facebook post shared by Gracia Palicas, a Kalinga tattoo artist and grandniece of the Kalinga tattoo master Whang-Od, has been the talk of the town the past few days.
“Whang-Od Academy is a scam. My grandmother did not sign any contract with @NasDaily to do any academy,” reads her post.
Nas Academy is a learning platform by social media influencer Nuseir Yassin, popularly known as Nas Daily, that was established in February 2020.
The academy recently introduced new courses that feature notable Filipino personalities, including Miss Universe 2018 Catriona Gray and the 104-year-old oldest mambabatok of Butbut tribe, Whang-od Oggay.
The now-deleted Whang-Od course was offered at P750 where course takers could learn the tattoo master’s ritual, tools, and traditional techniques.
“Some people are taking advantage of our culture. PLEASE HELP US STOP this disrespect to the legacy of Apo Whang Od and the Butbot Tribe,” said Palicas in her social media post.
‘Filipinos should stand together on this’
In light of this issue, Louise Mabulo, an award-winning chef and agriculture advocate, has decided to speak up and share her own experience with Nas Daily way back in 2019.
Mabulo met Nas Daily when he came to her town to cover her story as the founder of The Cacao Project, an initiative that promotes fair pay and a more sustainable livelihood for local farmers.
In a social media post, Mabulo expressed her disappointment towards the said social media influencer after hearing negative remarks about Filipinos from him.
“I watched him imitate and mock the local accent and language, vocalising Tagalog-sounding syllabic phrases saying it sounded stupid.” Mabulo added that Nas Daily referred to the people of her hometown as “poor,” and repeatedly said “Farmers are so poor!” and “Why are Filipinos so poor?”
Mabulo went on saying, “He said no one wants to hear about farmers or farms, it’s not clickable viewable content. He didn’t care about making change or shedding light on real issues— he only wanted content, a good, easy story to tell that would get him more Filipino views.”
On the shooting day, Mabulo also shared Yassin’s working ethic on the set. “He refused to let anyone take a break or eat, and he blamed his lack of ‘presentable click-worthy content’ on me and claimed that everything is not clickable or viewable.”
Mabulo hoped that she should have known better of how Yassin is exploitative and uses the neocolonialist narrative to fill the Filipinos’ need for foreign validation.
Mabulo chose to stay silent for two years after that encounter. “I would not risk my hometown, and the farmers here who benefit, over an affront by some influencer.”
She added, “I knew that I would face backlash for calling out on this man— after all, it’s easy to take Nusseir’s word over mine. And I’ve been haunted with the knowledge that he could manipulate years of my work with a single carelessly misinformed video— I chose to stay silent about it.”
As the issue on Whang-Od Academy came to light, Mabulo found it appropriate to speak up on this concerning matter that promotes “colonial mentality”.
“And now, he has overstepped and had the audacity to do the same to Whang-Od and the Butbot Tribe. The fact that he refused to take down the course until Gracia took her post down is a clear sign of systematic silencing, and the hope that they want to continue their money-making from our culture.”
“And now, his response to the issue illustrates a video of Apo Whang-Od signing a dubious contract— the same strategy colonizers used to mislead indigenous people to sell off their land, happening now action in the 21st century, except instead of land, it’s data and content and tradition being sold,” Mabulo responded.
Through the Nas Daily Tagalog Facebook account, the vlogger posted a statement regarding this controversy.
To answer Mabulo, Nas Daily replied via Facebook. His post reads:
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.
I was very inspired by your story. In fact, I was so inspired by what you achieved that I flew in from Singapore to the Province in the Philippines just to SUPPORT YOU.”
Nas Daily shared that he knew her story even before going to the Philippines, but decided to fly from Singapore to meet and support her.
He wrote: “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. That the awards on the Internet are just that…awards.
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.”
The influencer said that he invested time to support Mabulo and didn’t want to hurt her because of this.
“When we told you in person that we believe your story is not true, you understood us and you bid us farewell. We thanked you for your time and your hospitality and we went back to the airport. In fact, we took nice pictures with your family before we left.”
Nas Daily gave Mabulo two pieces of advice on the said post.
“1) Be truthful about your work. The Cacao Project is not as truthful as the media says it is.
2) Do not share online falsehoods. That is borderline illegal. Everything you said is with malicious intent and it is clearly not how I speak. We have 5 years of evidence to back that up. 40% of my company is Filipino. Our actions back up our words.”
Nas ended the post saying, “Hopefully one day, I can come back and tell your story again. You are, after all, an inspiring individual.”
Mabulo has posted a response, calling him out for diverting the issue to her when it was really about Apo Whang Od. She also invited readers to visit their farm.
The post reads:
“Nas, I didn’t want to validate your post with a response, but I’m not sorry to say we’re doing well, and launching our own chocolates soon. Our farmers are well and real, and are either blissfully unaware of you, or enjoying this exchange over a cup of hot chocolate or coconut water. I will not take advice nor criticism, especially when you clearly don’t understand Filipino farming and culture, or refuse to.
“Attacking me this way does not validate your behavior, the words you’ve said nor the injustice you’ve built your entire career on. Diverting this to me won’t work— this is about Apo Whang-Od and what you’ve done to her Tribe.
Our culture is sacred and to be preserved, respected, and given justice— not commercialized for profit, or sold off to just anyone.
“We’re not easily distracted.
“Have a great day, no more he said she said from me, I should be nothing to you.
To those who came across this issue from my post, here’s the posts of Gracia Palicas, Apo Whang-Od’s grandniece, and the REAL ISSUE at hand that we have to stand for. I’m only here to back Gracia if there was ever any shadow of a doubt about her integrity.
“On a lighter note, you’re all welcome to visit us, our farms, our mini chocolate factory, and have a sip of tsokolate (post pandemic or observing strict safety protocols, of course)
“That’s the last from me, have a great evening.”
The vlogger wrote an open letter to the Philippines via the Nas Daily Tagalog account in response to the Whang-Od Academy issue.
The post reads:
“We started Nas Academy because we think everybody should become a teacher.
“We wanted everyone inside and outside the Philippines to become a teacher, because knowledge is the only thing that increases when you give it away.
“Sadly, some of our intentions have been misunderstood, as we can see with Whang-Od Academy. But our goal has always been to help people become teachers, with their input and consent.
“We are committed to working with the National Commission on Indigenous People (NCIP) to ensure that all proper processes are followed. Meanwhile, we will be pausing our operations in the Philippines to focus on strengthening our processes around how we collaborate with our partners.
“We have full respect and belief in both the Filipino people and culture, which is why we chose the Philippines as one of the first places to build Nas Academy.
“We will come back more energised and ready to help more inspiring people become teachers in the Philippines.
“Because Education changes lives.
“Thank you to everyone who has engaged in conversation with us. Please take care and stay safe amidst the pandemic.
“See you again, soon!”