Nas Daily is coming under a barrage of fire in the Philippines.
Nuseir Yassin, founder of the Nas Daily media company, has been accused by Louise De Guzman Mabulo, a well-known and celebrated Filipino farmer and social entrepreneur, of being disrespectful, abhorrent, rude and exploitative.
Mabulo took to Facebook on Aug. 5 to share her experiences working with Yassin two years ago in 2019.
What happened when Mabulo and Yassin met
Yassin had flown from Singapore to the Philippines with the intention of making a video of Mabulo’s story.
As the founder of The Cacao Project, Mabulo was listed in the coveted Forbes 30 Under 30 list in Asia for her work with farmers rebuilding their lives.
The farmers are being taught about how to plant cacao plant seedlings and producing cacao responsibly after the region was hit by a devastating typhoon that made agriculture unattractive and unviable in the long term.
Mabulo said in her post that she was a fan of Yassin’s before the meeting.
She and her father would watch his videos every day.
However, according to Mabulo, she was in for the biggest disappointment.
Allegations of being exploitative and disrespectful
Mabulo said she had remained silent about her experience with Yassin for two years, with the fear that she could not make her word count against his, and that any video he put out about her could “manipulate” the work she has done over the years.
She alleged that Yassin imitated and mocked spoken Tagalog-sounding phrases, kept saying Filipino farmers are so poor, refused to feature farms and farmers because they were not clickable content, and that he had said by putting “Philippines” in the title, he would rake in millions of views from Filipinos.
Mabulo’s allegations also included how her family did not receive greetings or thanks from Yassin, and he said they were wasting time, and even refused to eat food prepared by Mabulo’s mother who had spent the day preparing it.
Having worked with other documentary makers and people in academia, Mabulo said she did not encounter such an experience before.
Farm was not ready-made video content
Mabulo’s most damning allegations were that Yassin had gone to the Philippines not with an open mind, but a preconceived notion of what he wanted to do and he was fueling a neocolonialist narrative by using the locals’ need for foreign validation.
She said: “I mean what visual popcorn can you create out of a farm?”
She also claimed she had told Yassin before his arrival that he would not get the visual shots he could make into a video, and that she had not “replaced coconuts with cacao”.
Her objective, she said, was to “diversify income streams for farmers”.
When she allegedly got tired of Yassin’s antics, both sides parted ways.
“We mutually agreed it was best he should just leave,” she wrote.
Yassin hits back with his own allegations
In response to Mabulo’s accusations, Yassin volleyed back with some of his own.
He wrote in a Facebook post that he saw the reality on the ground and had kept silent about it because of the discrepancy between what was advertised and what was happening.
Yassin wrote: “We spent two days flying, and we were very excited for your story of how you ‘revolutionised the cacao industry in your province,’ according to the internet.”
“To my biggest sadness and surprise, your story was not true on the ground.”
According to Nas, the “200 farmers” that Mabulo had worked with were nowhere to be found.
There were also no cacao plantations that she didn’t “personally profit from”.
The hype about Mabulo, Yassin alleged, was sold by media companies that did not go down to the ground and were written up in their “fancy offices”.
One of Yassin’s fellow video makers, Project Nightfall’s Agon Hare, commented on the post.
He said he had been present during Yassin’s visit to The Cacao Project.
He claimed that they had filmed videos of dying cocoa trees and that the whole project “was a failure”.
The Nas Daily video was never completed, because the farmers on site were not properly educated on how to plant cacao.
Yassin said he left for Singapore disappointed but he did not want to hurt Mabulo by making any media about the project.
“Even though we flew in for two days, we had to pack up and leave because I will never ever put fake news on Nas Daily,” Yassin said.
He added that Mabulo’s post was filled with malicious intent and not an accurate representation of how he behaved during his visit.
Yassin also said that 40 per cent of his company is Filipino.
“Our actions back up our words,” he added.
Mabulo’s accusations against Yassin followed an earlier accusation that a master class run by Nas Academy, an edtech platform by Yassin, was not real but a scam.
Gracia Palicas, the grandniece of the oldest living tattoo artist in the Philippines, 104-year-old Apo Whang-Od, said the elderly woman “did not sign any contract with @NasDaily to do any academy”.
She expressed concern that some people are “taking advantage” of their culture.
Palicas wrote: “Please help us stop this disrespect to the legacy of Apo Whang Od and the Butbot Tribe.”
Yikes what’s going on here? pic.twitter.com/XqHR35Yi2p
— Tammy David (@tammydavid)
For P750 (S$20), those interested can learn “The Ancient Art of Tattooing” from the most popular tattoo artist in the Philippines.
“Prepare to learn a 1000-year old art form from the last Kalinga tattoo artist in the world,” said the Nas Academy class description.
It also said Whang-Od “will reveal all her rituals, tools and methods for making traditional tattoos. All packed in a course that’s unlike anything we’ve ever done before.”
It is understood that Palicas took down her social media posts in exchange for Nas Academy taking down the class listing.
Yassin releases video of Whang-Od acknowledging contract with thumbprint
In response to the accusations that the class is a scam, Yassin released footage of the elderly woman putting her thumbprint to the contract.
The woman who supposedly translated the terms is the niece of Whang-Od.
Mabulo’s father speaks up
Mabulo’s father, Fermin Mabulo, has spoken up for his daughter, as he also accused Yassin of behaving badly while in the Philippines.
Mabulo senior repeated the claims his daughter made, which were that Yassin said he was not interested in the farmers but on “The Chocolate Lady from the Philippines”, and that he was full of himself during the visit.
Mabulo senior added that his daughter wanted the spotlight to be on the farmers instead but Yassin allegedly refused.
He wrote: “But Nas said ‘who cares about the farmers?’ That’s when we lost interest in the whole thing that he’s trying to do. His intended content is inconsistent with the realities on the ground. We were very transparent about what we showed him but he was looking for something else.”
“He even said to me ‘Mr Mayor we have a problem! We do not have content!'”
“I replied ‘we dont have a problem, you have a problem.'”
“So we packed up and I told our driver to bring them back to the hotel.”
Supporters on both sides
The clash of two personalities with vast followings involving accusations that are slanderous with a strong whiff of nationalism, has brought out the supporters from both sides in full force.
Within a day, Mabulo’s post has about 284,000 reactions, while Yassin’s post has 162,000 reactions.
Supporters of Mabulo have hit out at Yassin, accusing him of not understanding Filipino culture and agriculture in general, and imposing his mindset and ideas on a livelihood issue that has many moving parts that cannot be condensed into a short video with a neat narrative.
Supporters of Yassin have hit out at Mabulo and her project, turning it into an issue of accountability and questioning the viability of what she is doing on the ground, while demanding to know if the hype is real, as well as whether farmers even benefit from the initiative or profits.
There could be a cultural misunderstanding with regards to Whang-Od and her giving permission for Yassin’s Nas Academy to commodify and perpetuate her art and culture.
An anthropologist in the Philippines has given his take on what could have gone wrong with the use of legalese and the understanding of contractual obligations and permission-seeking with regards to licensing art, its commercial creation, and cultural dissemination among the indigenous community.
According to Nestor Castro, Whang-od might have given her explicit permission, but it is the Butbut Tribe of Kalinga that collectively owns the skill to make the art having developed it after many generations of practising it.
Nestor wrote: “Whang-od is not just an individual artist but she is also a member of the Butbut Tribe of Kalinga. Her skill on the art of traditional tattooing is derived from the indigenous knowledge of generations of Kalinga ancestors.”
“Thus, this indigenous knowledge is collectively owned (although it may be individually practiced) by the Butbut. Thus, the consent of the members of the Butbut is necessary if this knowledge is to be shared to outsiders. Getting the permission of one individual is not enough.”
He suggests that the issue can still be rectified so long as Yassin follows the correct procedure, as one step is for the contract acknowledgement or agreement signing to be witnessed by the National Commission for Indigenous Peoples (NCIP).
Whether Yassin will take this step to resolve the issue or leave the class by Whang-od out for good, likely depends on how he can negotiate his way back into the good books of many Filipinos who have not taken kindly to his comments about Mabulo.
But this does not negate the fact that Yassin still has supporters in the Philippines who still have his back.
Petition to ban Yassin from the Philippines
As the issue is still hot, barely a day after it blew up among Filipinos and news of it travelled worldwide, given how Yassin has become a internationally recognised personality due to his globe-trotting previously before the pandemic, a petition has been put up to ban his future entry into the Philippines.
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Top media via Fermin Mabulo