A new visual series by Seafarer Asia, Kumusta, Kabaro? Kumusta, Kaibigan? gives viewers gritty glimpses into the lives of Filipino seafarers and their kin. True tales of love, pride, sacrifice, failure and success weave a living tapestry and an oral history of life at sea. The subjects are given free rein on what to share and how they wish to be photographed. The series is inspired by the popular photoblog, Humans of New York.

Kristine Lacsamana, 19, 3CL Midshipman

“Academy life is much harder for ladies. First of all, there are so few of us – just 13 out of a total strength of 416. Plus we have a strict hierarchy – a plebe or fourth-classman is a ducrot to third-classmen, a chicken to second-classmen and a good neighbor to first-classmen. They are our idols, standing at the top of the heap as graduating cadets of MAAP. 

Upperclass cadets can always order us around. We call it pangungupal, harassment which prepares us for real life. For example, a first-classman can right now order us to march under the sun, or do pushups or run loops around the oval. This is extra hard for lady cadets, since there are punishments allotted just for us. Nothing too hard, but additional work. 

Because of this, we lady cadets have a bond stronger than steel. We’ve learned to look out for one another. For example, we have acts called Taking Life – simple infractions which can cost us our stay at the academy. These can be seemingly innocent, like bringing in a beer or chips or using a cellphone. If we get caught, we can get expelled, which will cost us our careers, our future, our lives. We’ve since learned to protect each other so that if one of us uses a phone, no one talks. I think this is also one of the tenets the academy cultivates internally – how to take care of your own team, especially if they come from MAAP.  

Right now the caste system and harassment feels tiring, but academy graduates all say one thing – that this discipline and conditioning pays dividends at sea, when we’ll be in charge of the lives of others. They say that only when you have learned to react instantly and intelligently to various situations do you understand that all the pangungupal and harassment was done not out of spite – but because our upperclassmen wanted us to succeed as seafarers.” 

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Gregg Yan

Gregg Yan is an award-winning writer and photographer who covers marginalized groups and environmental conservation issues. His work has been featured by National Geographic, Discovery Channel, CNN plus over a dozen books – including Into the Wild, his first coffee table book. He also has a monthly magazine column on wildlife.