Issue of January 3, 2021
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Firm halts release of apparel bearing Whang-od design
by Jane B. Cadalig

No individual can claim ownership of an indigenous community’s tattoo designs.

This is the reason the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples has asked shoes and clothing brand, Vans Philippines, to halt the release of its apparel bearing the “python” design by Kalinga’s tattoo artist Whang-od.

Rocky Ngalob of NCIP-Cordillera said Vans Philippines was supposed to release the apparel early December last year after it signed a memorandum of agreement in which Whang-od gave her consent for the company to use of the python tattoo design.

The apparel, a long-sleeve top, bears the tattoo design in one of its sleeves and Whang-od at the back.

The NCIP, however, said the MOA is not enough to justify Vans Philippines’ use of the ethnic pattern because the tattoo design is owned by the indigenous peoples (IPs) of Kalinga and not solely by Whang-od.

“The tattoo designs of Whang-od are part of the Indigenous Knowledge Systems and Practices (IKSP) of the Kalinga indigenous cultural communities (ICCs) and parties that intend to use the designs must first secure the consent of the Kalinga ICCs/IPs,” NCIP-Cordillera said in a release.

The NCIP added that a validation by personnel of NCIP-Kalinga, showed that Whang-od acknowledged that the tattoo designs of Kalinga cannot be claimed or owned by an individual.

To recall,  New Era Co. also signed a MOA with Whang-od in 2019 for the use of her tattoo designs in the company’s products, but the NCIP required the firm to secure the consent of the Kalinga IPs.

New Era Co. started going through the free prior and informed consent with the Kalinga IPs, but the process was stalled due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

NCIP-Cordillera Director Marlon Bosantog called in the IPs in the region to be vigilant about the unauthorized use or appropriation of their IKSPs. He said IPs with concerns similar to the unauthorized use of tattoo designs can proceed to the regional office for assistance.

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