EMBRACING EVERY JUAN
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.