ILLUSTRATOR Jasrellle Serrano
The bi-annual Manila Furnishings And Apparel Manufacturing Exchange (FAME) trade event has been going on for over 30 years, and it's usually a quiet affair that generates little by way of news and controversy. Not this year, though.
The apparently well-meaning organizers brought the venerable tattoo artist Whang-Od Oggay to the event floor to demonstrate the traditional practice of hand-tapping ink designs in front of an audience. (This also provided the opportunity for the lady to fulfill her wish of meeting actor Coco Martin, star of her favorite TV series, Ang Probinsyano.)
However, the apo's first trip to Manila was not to end without controversy. Though Whang-Od was flown back home via military chopper on Sunday, debate continued to rage on about her appearance at the event, which many questioning whether her treatment there constituted exploitation.
It started with a post from travel blogger Winky Scott Laagan, of Whang-Od dozing off at a conference attached to the event:
Captioned "NO TO APO EXPLOITATION," the post managed to earn over 77K reactions, and was shared over 35K times. At first, there was near-universal outrage:
Soon, other responses emerged. Nash Tysmans posted about cultural commodification:
Travel writer Nina Unlay, who had authored a piece called "Whang-Od Loves Coco Martin," pointed out that, "it's nice to see people discuss Whang Od passionately, but it's also very disturbing to see how often we claim to speak on her behalf":
Thankfully, makeup artist Xeng Zulueta, who says she was able to get audience with Whang-Od, had a first-person account:
The Center for International Trade Expositions and Missions, which organizes Manila FAME, also came out with a statement to address the issue. “Apo Whang-Od’s participation in Manila FAME was a tremendous collaborative effort of various government agencies. These include the Philippine Air Force, Philippine Army who ensured her safety prior to and during her travel to Manila and back,” said CITEM Executive Director Clayton Tugonon. “Whang-Od’s comprehensive care prior to and throughout her participation and travel back to Kalinga was done by a dedicated medical team lead by Dr. Miguel Ramos, head of the Department of Health’s National Geriatric Hospital, Geriatric Medicine consultant of the Jose R. Reyes Memorial Medical Center, National Center for Geriatric Health, and St. Luke’s Medical Center Security.”
The statement also quotes Tugonon as saying that "the invitation of Apo Whang-Od was sought through proper channels which include the Kalinga community of elders (Whang-Od included), National Commission on Indigenous Peoples, concerned local government units, Department of Tourism and the Department of Trade and Industry Regional offices."
What's your take on it?