On top of the steep slopes of the Cordillera Mountains, the town of Buscalan sits quietly amidst the clouds. No matter how challenging the terrain is to get there, people come in droves to witness the artistry of the last Kalinga Mambabatok: Apo Whang-od Oggay.
Last September, a campaign was launched by Facebook user Loughrenz Aidwourd pushing for the National Artist award to be given to the 97-year old tattoo artist. It has gathered more than 12,000 shares since its posting last September 17, 2015.
Weeks after this campaign went viral, some netizens raised the issue that Whang-od deserves a more special recognition. According to lawyer and former Comelec official working for the electoral rights of the indigenous people, Emil Marañon III, Republic Act 7355 creates a distinct award system for the finest indigenous, traditional artists called the National Living Treasures Award or Gawad Manlilikha ng Bayan. Stating that she is ripe for this award, he urged netizens to nominate her as a recipient for this award instead.
Early October, Senator Miriam Defensor-Santiago filed Senate Resolution 1602, to nominate Whang-od and traditional dance advocate Ligaya Fernando Amilbangsa as National Living Treasure awardees. To date, there are only 13 recipients of the award including Tboli princess Lang Dulay for weaving intricately patterned T’nalaks from abaca fiber.