WATCH | Manila FAME issues statement on Apo Whang-Od ‘exploitation’ issue

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Issues on the alleged exploitation of Whang-Od Oggay, the last known “mambabatok” of her generation in Kalinga at the Manila FAME circulated on social media over the weekend.

A photograph of Whang-Od resting her head on a table as if sleeping was posted by a certain Winky Scott who also made a call to stop the exploitation of the centenarian tattoo artist. The post further claimed that the event charges Php2,500 for a tattoo, Php500 for a signature, and Php700 for a press conference.

Thousands of netizens reacted to the post, commenting that Manila FAME is making money out of Whang-Od, and is commercializing her craft.

Whang-Od in Manila
Part of the presentations at the Manila FAME was a special set-up where some participants were inked by Whang-Od and her two successors, Grace Palicas and Ilyang Wagan. The three-day set up was cordoned off, and security was present.

The cordoned off set-up allowed visitors to gather around and observe how Whang-Od does the pagbabatok. The crowd was also allowed to take photos and videos of her during her presentation.

Apart from this showcase of Kalinga’s heritage tattoo practice, Apo Whang-Od was also present in a forum called “Traditional Aesthetic in Contemporary Times”, which happened on Friday, October 20 from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m.

Doris Gacho, Manila FAME’s project manager previously shared, “It is our first time to bring an icon so to speak in Manila FAME (to show) our age-old tattooing tradition. We want to pay homage to our heritage.”

Department of Trade and Industry’s Center for International Trade Expositions and Missions (CITEM) together with Philippine Air Force worked together in bringing Apo Whang-od from Kalinga to Manila in time for the event.

While many criticized Manila FAME, some also posted vidoes showing Whang-Od smiling and posing for photos with visitors at the event.

Manila FAME statement
Manila FAME clarified in a statement that they have gone through “proper channels” in inviting Whang-Od to the event.

“Apo Whang-Od’s participation in Manila FAME was a tremendous collaborative effort of various government agencies. These include the Philippine Air Force and Philippine Army who ensured her safety prior to and during her travel to Manila and back. Invitation of Apo Whang-Od was sought through the proper channels which include the Kalinga community of elders (Whang-Od included), National Commission on Indigenous Peoples, local government units, Department of Tourism, and the Department of Trade and Industry regional offices,” the statement indicated.

The Manila FAME organizers claim that there was a dedicated team assigned to oversee the health of Whang-Od prior to her travel to Manila, throughout the duration of the three-day event, until her return to Kalinga.

The event organizers further noted that the money earned from the tattoo sessions were handled by the elders of Kalinga.

“Kalinga region’s participation, including Whang-Od’s, in this recent edition of Manila FAME aimed to promote the culture and heritage crafts of the region while also enabling a deeper understanding and appreciation of the country’s pre-colonial identity through our enduring traditional tattoo art, the pagbabatok.

“We would also like to communicate to everyone that all proceeds from the tattoo of Whang-Od, and her successors, during the event were completely handled by the Kalinga elders.”

During the event, Whang-Od was also formally nominated for the Gawad sa Manglilikha ng Bayan (GAMABA) or the National Living Treasure Award.