For the next few stories, Kumusta, Kabaro? Kumusta, Kaibigan? will focus on the veterans; the seafarers who have a world of experience on their shoulders. 

Bonifacio Villamor, 61, Ensign, Philippine Navy (ret.)

“I’ve been here in MAAP for 13 years, helping train seafarers to become dependable reserve officers in the Philippine Navy. All MAAP cadets are commissioned as ensigns in the Naval Reserve upon graduation. This dramatically bolsters our manpower in case war comes to our waters.

The training here is what I consider ‘semi-military’. Not as hard as real military training but harsh enough to shock civilians, especially if they haven’t prepared themselves emotionally and psychologically.

I served for over 30 years in the Navy, starting as an apprentice seaman and retiring as an ensign, a level above my final noncommissioned service rank of chief petty officer. My most exciting assignment was as a peacekeeper in East Timor, where I served from 2001 to 2002.

Though it took me three decades to reach ensign, MAAP cadets automatically become reserve ensigns in just four years. Those that want to continue moving up in rank can be commissioned as junior-grade lieutenants by training every weekend for about two months. The more training cycles they complete, the faster they can learn new skills and move up.

As the academy’s ranking noncommissioned officer, I’ve had the honor of training thousands of cadets. I make sure I treat them all equally – no special treatment because a cadet is the son or daughter of some big shot.

Two of my five children graduated here and I treated them no differently from the others. Each of my own kids chose different paths. I have a deck officer, a marine engineer, an accountant and an artist – and I love and treat them all equally.

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.

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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.