BAGUIO CITY: The National Commission on Indigenous Peoples (NCIP) has intervened in the unauthorized commercial release of tattoo designs made by far the oldest, world-renowned Kalinga tattoo artist Apo Whang-od.

APO WHANG - Apo Whang-od’s tattoos not for commercial use
Apo Whang-od shows her own tattoo designs CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

The NCIP clarified with the 104-year-old Apo Apo Whang-od if she knew the terms included in the Memorandum of Agreement (MoA) she allegedly signed with representatives of clothing apparel VANS Philippines.

According to the NCIP team, the Kalinga tattoo artist “was not fully aware of the MoA, which include: the buyout of her exclusive python tattoo design, the $800-fee (which she said had not even received).”

“Apo Whang-od acknowledged and affirmed that no single individual can claim ownership of her tattoo designs, including the python design,” the NCIP team report said.

The NCIP put a stop to the December 2020 launch of the merchandise that features Apo Whang-od’s designs, particularly her python design.

The NCIP was made aware of the agreement when VANS Philippines, in November 2020, wrote to the commission that it would be releasing the product line in December 2020.

The clothing line targets to incorporate into its merchandise the python tattoo design of Whang-od, a member of the Kalinga IP community.

Upon knowledge of the alleged memorandum of agreement, the NCIP quickly organized a validation team composed of NCIP-Kalinga personnel in November 2020.

The validation team was able to sit down and discuss with Whang-od the issue with VANS Philippines.

A similar incident happened in 2019, when NEW ERA Co. also had Whang-od sign a MoA in order for the former to use the tattoo designs of the Kalinga people in its hat products.

NEW ERA Co. was then directed by the NCIP-Cordillera Administrative Region (CAR) to go through the process of the Free Prior and Informed Consent (FPIC) and obtain first consent from the Kalinga IP before it can appropriate the tattoo designs in their other products.

The business firm conformed to the proposal of the NCIP-CAR to follow the FPIC process.

It was seeking the consent of the Kalinga community for the utilization of the latter’s tattoo designs when the global coronavirus pandemic stalled its attempt.

The NCIP-CAR pointed out that the tattoo designs of Whang-od are part and parcel of the Indigenous Knowledge Systems and Practices (IKSP) of the Kalinga IPs.

These exclusive Kalinga designs are owned collectively by the Kalinga people, the NCIP-CAR claimed.

In effect, the commission added, before any utilization and/or appropriation is made, prior consent from the owner must be first secured, in this case, from the Kalinga IPs.

The NCIP-CAR reiterated that ownership of the tattoo designs is not solely Whang-od’s, but with the Kalinga people as one single collective community.

Meanwhile, it created a task force headed by the commission’s Legal Affairs Office to look into appropriations of the IKSP.

The task force will be studying similar concerns throughout the country and will be coming up with appropriate actions not limited to filing of cases in court if necessary.

VANS Philippines and NEW ERA Co. are yet to secure consent from the Kalinga community and both halted the release of their respective product lines containing the tattoo designs of the Kalinga people.

The NCIP-CAR Regional Director lawyer Marlon Bosantog has urged the IP universe of CAR to be vigilantly on the lookout for similar concerns and vowed to open the doors of the NCIP-CAR for any needed assistance.

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