EM­BRAC­ING EV­ERY JUAN

Palawan Daily News - - Feature - BY KIA JO­HANNA LAMO

Months ago, an aerial shot of what was be­lieved to be an oil spill in Coron went vi­ral on the in­ter­net and alarmed some peo­ple and the au­thor­i­ties.

I clicked on the up­loader’s pro­file and saw some­one who ap­pears to be a for­eigner.

Af­ter send­ing him a pri­vate mes­sage, I stalked his ac­count. I saw a lot of pic­tures he ap­par­ently took. Not just mere pho­tos, but AMAZ­ING ones. Th­ese were all about the Philip­pines. I thought, “This guy loves Philip­pines so much.”

He is Sergei Tok­makov, a 39-yearold Cal­i­for­nian lawyer, tourist po­lice vol­un­teer and mer­maid pho­tog­ra­pher. SERGEI EM­BRACED EV­ERY JUAN

“I am a Cal­i­for­nia lawyer with in­ter­na­tional prac­tice, so I’ve been to lots of coun­tries. But five years ago the Philip­pines has be­come my fa­vorite to spend ex­tended pe­ri­ods of time in be­cause it’s mind-blow­ingly beau­ti­ful, peo­ple speak the best English in Asia and the cost of liv­ing is much lower than in the US. There is no other coun­try in Asia that sat­is­fies all of the afore­men­tioned cri­te­ria,” he told me through Mes­sen­ger.

Sergei loves the coun­try es­pe­cially its rich bio­di­ver­sity, the ocean and the life be­neath the waves. So, he started do­ing what he calls “mer­maid pho­tog­ra­phy” and be­gan cre­at­ing a book about the Pearl of the Ori­ent Seas.

He al­ready pub­lished two books and one of th­ese is taken around Cebu.

Sergei thinks that mer­maids should be the mas­cot of the Philip­pines for they are a great am­bas­sadress of the sea who can show­case the rich lives un­der the ocean.

“So, af­ter a few years in the Philip­pines, I’ve amassed so many nice pho­tos and sto­ries that it was enough to pub­lish two photo books about “mer­maid” (un­der­wa­ter model) and na­ture pho­tog­ra­phy in this coun­try. I chose the ‘mer­maid’ theme for my Philip­pine se­ries be­cause mer­maids are mes­mer­iz­ing am­bas­sadresses of the sea. They rep­re­sent this coun­try’s fa­mous un­der­wa­ter world very well – it’s a dream come true. I think mer­maid should be the mas­cot of the Philip­pines,” said Sergei.

He is very pas­sion­ate in cap­tur­ing “mer­maids” of the Philip­pines. He did it just to help pro­mote tourism. “I started do­ing un­der­wa­ter model and drone pho­tog­ra­phy to help pro­mote Philip­pine tourism.”

A pho­to­graph is more than a thou­sand words. Though Sergei only did pho­tog­ra­phy for fun, some ended up con­tro­ver­sial and even sparked de­bates.

“I just did it for fun but then some of those pho­tos ended up be­com­ing pop­u­lar, con­tro­ver­sial and sparked en­vi­ron­men­tal de­bates. For ex­am­ple, when I pho­tographed the Miss Uni­verse 2016 can­di­dates un­der­wa­ter with the whale sharks,” he said.

“Not all photo projects were fun and beau­ti­ful,” he said re­call­ing his shots of the Yolanda af­ter­math.

“Not all photo projects were fun and beau­ti­ful. Typhoon Yolanda was very dif­fi­cult to pho­to­graph. Not only be­cause of the dev­as­ta­tion it caused but be­cause the vic­tims were smil­ing. Filipinos al­ways smile even in the most dif­fi­cult of life sit­u­a­tions, whereas Western­ers have all the money in the world but true hap­pi­ness is rare. Th­ese poor typhoon vic­tims taught me some of the most im­por­tant les­sons in life,” Sergei said.

One of his most re­cent pho­to­graphs is the “Coron oil spill” that sparked de­bate and alarmed Palaweños. His pic­tures, how­ever, were not con­firmed by the Coast Guard to be oil spills.

THE CAP­TURE IN CORON

“I just did it for fun but then some of those pho­tos ended up be­com­ing pop­u­lar, con­tro­ver­sial and sparked en­vi­ron­men­tal de­bates. For ex­am­ple, when I pho­tographed the Miss Uni­verse 2016 can­di­dates un­der­wa­ter with the whale sharks. Or, most re­cently, when my drone has ex­posed daily “oil spilling” go­ing on in the Coron Bay right now. I am grate­ful to all the lo­cal vol­un­teers and jour­nal­ists that helped gen­er­ate the much-needed at­ten­tion which re­sulted in some of the per­pe­tra­tors be­ing caught and fined,” said Sergei.

He also ex­pressed his deep con­cern over Coron as he said that he won’t let the per­pe­tra­tors de­stroy its beauty.

Sergei posted the “oil spill” out of love for the coun­try.

“I am an in­de­pen­dent wit­ness who has no rea­son to lie what­so­ever. In Cal­i­for­nia, I am a lawyer. I don’t break the law; I haven’t even had a speed­ing ticket since 2002. I have zero time or de­sire to go all the way to the other side of the world to make up some hoaxes about a town in the Philip­pines. I just shared what I saw in a video. Out of love for the Philip­pines, I had to. I could not just let those Bar­bar­ians sit there in ma­rine par­adise like that, es­pe­cially if it turns out it was il­le­gal for large ves­sels to even be there in the first place,” he said.

Sergei said he came to Coron to wit­ness one of the most beau­ti­ful scener­ies in the world, yet, saw some­thing that made him sad. He said that he was glad he re­ported it be­cause it alarmed the au­thor­i­ties and he did some­thing that will re­ally help Palawan.

Af­ter his video, many Palaweños shared, liked and posted their com­ments. With th­ese, Sergei said that Palaweños have a big heart for the en­vi­ron­ment.

“My over­all im­pres­sion of Palaweños is that they are very en­vi­ron­men­tally con­scious be­cause this is­land is na­tional pride; it al­ways ranks as one of the best is­lands in the world,” Sergei said.

Now, he is now in Coron to pro­duce his third book about mer­maids of the coun­try and is now look­ing for free-div­ing mod­els for his book to show the beauty of the Philip­pines.

“I came to Palawan to pro­duce a third photo book about the mer­maids of the Philip­pines. I post progress videos in the Philip­pine Tourism Com­mis­sion Group (PTCG) on FB. We are al­most done with the Coron mer­maid video. The fi­nal ver­sion will soon be posted in the PTCG. I will then pro­ceed to El Nido to make a tourism promo video about mer­maids there as well,” he said.

Sergei is a for­eign lawyer who fell in love with the coun­try with his lens and cam­era. He fell in love with the gift of na­ture in the coun­try and fought for it through his pho­to­graphs. This will not end with this, for this man will al­ways love ev­ery Juan.

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