This is Baste

Irish Christianne Dizon - The Philippine Star
This is Baste
For every horrible thing that’s been said about President-elect Rodrigo Duterte, his youngest son Sebastian, national enigma and heartthrob, is walking evidence to the contrary. This is his first — and possibly last — in-depth interview.
Sebastian Duterte’s Facebook page

DAVAO CITY — Sebastian Duterte looks at me with a cold, puzzled glint in his eye. “Interview?”

President-elect Rodrigo Duterte’s youngest son thought this was just a random tambay session with his buddies (one of them he met in high school, some he met because of surfing, one he has known since kindergarten) until I, a recorder-wielding intruder from Manila, arrived. It’s past 5 p.m., and the six of them are hanging out inside the Crocodile Farm compound in Davao City. There are three cars parked on the roadside, Jack Johnson songs blasting on the stereo, the remnants of their merienda, Kookel’s lechon manok and liempo, plus Nagaraya, laid out on the bangketa, picnic-style.

“What is this for?” he asks. I give him a harried, nervous explanation; he reciprocates with a nerve-wracking beat. “I don’t really like talking about my life ah,” he warns. “But you can try.”

Challenge accepted.

But Sebastian doesn’t immediately sit down for a Q & A. Baste, as he is now fondly called by the whole Philippines, takes his sweet time. His friend of 13 years, Jobe Nkemakolam, takes a Facebook Live video of this whole thing, and Baste indulges his request to do kissy faces for the girls and gurls eagerly watching in front of their laptops and smartphones. (Full disclosure: Jobe helped orchestrate this Supreme ambush.) Baste fiddles with his phone and banters with his buddies. Eventually, on his own terms, he sits down on the sidewalk, visibly on guard.

This encounter could go down two ways: Either the national enigma will remain an enigma, or the national enigma will open up and show us who he is beyond the election coverage and the shirtless surfing photos of him going around on social media.

I hit record.






What it’s really like to be Digong’s son

Sebastian Duterte, 28, grew up in Davao City, in a modest, three-bedroom house “near a squatter’s area.” (His brother and sister had their own rooms, while Baste shared with their parents.) “My friends were all from that area. Naghahabulan kami, namimingwit sa river. I can make my own fishing rod out of bamboo,” he says with a smile. “Nag bo-bote bakal din ako dati. I didn’t have to do that. May allowance naman ako from my dad. I just went with them. Trip lang.”

He was pretty much an “ordinary kid,” but one who had security personnel following him around. As a political scion, he had no choice but to live with the fact. (One of his bodyguards is now the caretaker of Baste’s childhood home, and he tells me, “Dati tumatakas yan sa amin. Nagpupunta sa mall.” In college, Baste put his foot down and told them to back off. “I’m not sure ha, pero parang sinundan pa rin naman nila ako but nasa malayo na.”)

His parents split when he was 11 years old, but it never scarred Baste the way it damaged other kids from broken homes. “Malungkot talaga but it really didn’t get to me because my father was always there. Nagpapakita siya. Pinapatawag niya ako.” Father and son are not big talkers. In fact, Baste reveals, “We seldom talk.” (Turns out the now-most powerful man in the land doesn’t even own a cellphone. All communications go through his executive assistant.) “I know what he wants, I know what he needs me to do, alam ko na yun eh, because I really know the guy,” he explains. “Like, do not be hambog, do not disrespect people; things like that. Alam ko na ano yung tama, alam ko na yung mali. Yung tama, yun yung ine-expect niya sa akin. So that’s what I do. I do not need to talk to him.” He calls his father “the Alpha,” and would never think of answering back — that’s something only his famously feisty sister Inday Sara can get away with. “Ako ayoko ng away. Kung kayo mag-aaway, ako nandito lang. I will watch you. Manonood lang ako sa inyo tapos pagtatawanan ko kayo.”

You never argue with the Alpha, not even when the Davao City ordinances he decides to enforce go against everything you enjoy. “First of all, I’m a smoker. And I want fireworks. And I don’t want the speed limit. The liquor ban? I drink a lot!” Baste was an ordinary citizen looking at the rules, evaluating how these would affect him. In the end, he understood his dad’s strict laws. “For example, the fireworks, we do not want unnecessary accidents and hospital bills. I know it’s for the good of everybody.” FYI, he follows the rules. On days when he breaks them he has to pay the price, like everybody else. “I have to tell you honestly though,” he qualifies. “Because my dad has been in politics for a very long time, natatakot naman yung humuhuli sa akin. Kahit anong pilit ko na hulihin ako, ayaw nila.” But Baste insists, especially if there are bystanders in the area. “Sinasabi ko talaga, hulihin niyo ako, kasi hindi talaga tama na hindi niyo ako hulihin at nakita ng maraming tao. Dapat patas lahat.”

His parents’ split taught Baste to rely on himself, to make decisions on his own. Like that time he decided to drop out of San Beda on his college freshman year and go home instead. His reason was valid: Chaotic Manila was driving the probinsyano nuts. “San Beda ako second year high school to first year college. Mendiola yun eh, Recto. Sobrang gulo.” Aside from the traffic and stressful city life, what got to him were the assumptions of his Manileño classmates about him. “Some people, when they find out that you’re from Mindanao, iba na agad yung tingin nila,” he says. “May assumptions lang sila na Muslim ako, magulo sa Mindanao. I told them na I’m not Muslim, na may mga Kristiyano rin sa Davao.” When some of them decided to visit, Baste painted a “remote & dusty” image of his hometown in their heads: “Sabi ko, pagbaba niyo ng Davao, yung runway dun it’s not paved, may mga ahas,” he recalls, laughing. “So when they got here, sobrang… ‘Ano ka ba! Anong ginawa mo sa amin!’ I wanted them to find out for themselves.”

He wasn’t exactly a good student. He was happy with “75, 76, 77, 78.” Baste preferred extra-curricular activities like basketball (he was on the reserve team of San Beda), clay shooting (he won two competitions), motocross (it was a two-year love affair), surfing (still his favorite pastime) and mixed martial arts. The last thing he didn’t really pursue because, “Natakot ako kasi baka mamaya pag-ring pa lang ng bell, pag-lapit ko sa kalaban ko, ma kno-knock out na ako. Nakakahiya naman yun.” Despite his aversion to studying, he took up Medical Technology in San Pedro College in Davao. “Gusto kong maging doctor kasi walang doctor sa family. Puro lawyers.” Two semesters later, he decided to drop those MD dreams. “Wala, hindi talaga ako mahilig mag-aral. Yun lang yun,” he shrugs, and adds, “At tsaka papatay kami ng pusa, to dissect. Ayokong pumatay ng pusa. Wala namang kasalanan yung hayop.” (This is not lip service. He has a pet cat he loves dearly, a beautiful Russian Blue named India who has the enviable experience of sleeping next to Baste.)

He shifted one last time to Political Science at the Ateneo de Davao, and it was finally a match. (His favorite political thinker, his dad, took up PolSci at Lyceum and this inspired Baste to give it a try. The most important concept Digong instilled in his boy was social equality. “Whatever you are in society, you always have to consider everyone around you as an equal. You have to treat them as equal human beings.”) “Tatlo lang yung math subjects — and I’m very bad at math. So yun, kinuha ko na. Eto na yun,” he says. “The exams are subjective so yung opinion mo lumalabas talaga.”

But then the unexpected happened. At 22 years old, Sebastian Duterte found out he was going to be a father.

Sebastian grows up

“This is the first time I’m telling this to anyone not them,” he says, pointing to his buddies. The sun has completely set and the yellow streetlight is the only thing illuminating this short stretch of road. “Medyo loose ako ngayon ah,” he smiles, and I say a silent thank you to the universe. In a word, Baste was “terrified” when his ex told him he was going to be a dad. Despite the fear, he put on the big boy pants and decided to man up for his kid. “Kasi lalake ako eh. I needed to do something. Ayoko naman umasa sa tatay ko. Gusto kong ipakita sa kanya na I can handle myself. But because I was still a student, tinanggap ko pa rin naman yung allowance ko sa kanya.”

He put up a junk shop “kasi yun ang alam ko,” and it ended up being his bread and butter up to this day. Baste eventually finished school, but he never worked in any kind of office or served any boss. “Di ko lang kaya. I cannot handle seeing myself integrated into society, doing what everybody else is doing.” He lives a very simple life so what he makes through his junk shop is enough for him. “Hindi kasi talaga ako magastos na tao. Okay na sa akin as long as I can save up for my kid. Yun lang.”

His days would make stressed-out city dwellers die with envy. He wakes up at whatever time he wants, sleeps at whatever time he wants. (Insomnia is something he and his father have in common.) And work only enters the picture “At the end of the month,” he says, grinning.  Baste has a manager who runs the junk shop, and his only instruction is for his hand to meet the margin he wants. “I want to earn this much, that’s it. Pag bumaba yung kita ko, that means something is wrong. Pag sumobra naman, sa inyo na yun, nakawin niyo na, basta ito lang yung gusto ko.”

Contrary to reports, Baste is not single, and has a partner with whom he has a two-year-old son. She is his sixth girlfriend. But if he were single, you’d be glad to know his no-fuss approach to life applies even to his partner selection process: “Basta maganda at tsaka gusto ako, yun na yun,” he says without missing a beat. “Di naman ako masyadong mapili sa babae. I want her to be smart, mabait, maganda. Kung complete package, then that’s better.”

National Heartthrob

The fact that he’s even getting asked questions like “what kind of woman do you like” baffles Baste. He doesn’t understand the sudden interest in his life and his, let’s be honest, looks. “Tingnan mo nga ako,” he orders, and I gladly oblige. “Ako ba yung tao na pag gumising tumitingin sa salamin? After I towel my hair I go out of the house, that’s it. Wala akong pakialam.” The guy knows he’s good-looking but not in a D-bag kind of way. “I know I’m somehow good-looking because my mom’s mestiza. I know I look different from the typical Filipino, but it doesn’t mean anything to me,” he says. “Kaya nga nagugulat na lang ako, why everybody…” He trails off. “Maybe it’s because my dad is…” The President-elect, I complete the sentence for him. You can’t blame the guy for thinking this way. Before the national elections, Filipinos didn’t really care about him and now all kinds of people approach him — from the casual “Baste pa-picture” fans to the shady sipsip sort who want to be chummy with the President’s hot AF son, each bearing his own agenda. He knows this. That’s why getting into his circle — hell, getting an interview — requires tenacity and someone he trusts vouching for you. He didn’t even want to get involved with his dad’s campaign, until some of DU30’s supporters during his first out-of-Mindanao sortie in Tagaytay begged him to help out. “Nandun sila gamit nila yung sarili nilang pera, their own time. Ako, kadugo na, anak pa. Bakit hindi ako tutulong?”

He won’t ever forget the whole campaign because it was the biggest task he ever undertook; one that forced him to step up and speak in front of people, an idea he hated in the past. Not just that. Baste had to go around the country. The experience he hates the most was joining a seven-hour motorcade around different barangays in Isabela where all he did was stand at the back of the truck and throw ballers and shirts to the crowd. “I wasn’t talking to people and I didn’t like that. I want to talk to them. I want to let them know what I’m here for. Kahit isa lang yung puntahan ko sa isang araw basta nakausap ko yung mga tao.”

As far as best memories go, this takes the cake: “I never thought people would vote for someone who didn’t pay them.” Every time Baste would campaign for his dad, he brought just these with him: His best friend SBoi Malicay, his close friend Atty. Alexis Lumabatan, and Duterte ballers. No vote-buying money — something that surprised Filipinos used to politicians with deep pockets and dark intentions. In Bantayan, Cebu, Baste lost his temper over two drunks asking him for “pasalubong.” “I got so pissed,” he says, turning red. “When I went inside the van, binuksan ko pa ulit, sinigawan ko sila, ‘Wala kaming pera! Kung gusto niyong bayaran ko kayo para iboto kami, wag na.’”

He thinks having well-publicized presidential and vice presidential debates was “very good” and wishes the same for those gunning for local government positions. “People should be informed sa intentions nung mga tumatakbong politicians and they could evaluate them right then and there during the debate. Dapat ganun, dapat ganun talaga.” There are those who can’t wait to see his father f*ck up and Baste has this to say to them: “You’re just gonna have to wait for it. And when that happens, you’re just gonna have to clap your hands.” Insert sardonic smile here. And for those who choose to give Digong benevolent support? “The things that he said during the campaign, he will definitely do it and he’s going to do it for you.” There is fire in those brown eyes now. “He’s not going to do it for himself. He’s going to do it for everybody including those voters who voted for the other candidates.”

The hoopla of the campaign season is done, and he can’t wait to go back to being regular Baste. “If you ask me, I’d rather stay here in Davao or somewhere else,” he says.  “If Papa asks me to do something, gagawin ko. Pero kung wala, I’ll just maintain what I was before, what I was doing before.” That sounds like a good plan, but good luck with that, Baste. A single video Jobe posts starring you on Facebook clocks in thousands of shares and views in a matter of minutes, and it looks like the Baste rain won’t let up in the next six years. Or maybe it will. It’s anyone’s guess at this point.

“That was the best interview I ever gave,” he says, grinning. “Pasalamat ka naka-inom ako.” We head to Rebecca’s with his boys, a hole in the wall that serves halal bbq. Baste eats without a fork and has no qualms devouring his friend’s leftover chicken. “Walang signature dish ang Davao, no?” he suddenly quips, and they start speaking in Bisaya. From the little I could understand, he wants to hold a contest of sorts, for talented chefs to come up with something that captures this place in a dish. He has a meeting to go to after, and instructs his surfer friend Joven to drive me to my temporary digs. This is the first time in a long time that this Supreme writer is leaving an interview without the requisite beso. With all the people wanting a photo with him, I almost forgot I am not dealing with an artista, but a man reluctantly thrust into the limelight. In the car, I think of Digong, and the many vile things said about him. And then I think about his boy, this man who pushed a kariton as a kid, who can’t bring himself to kill a cat, who opens doors for girls and gives them the best part of the chicken. I think about this man who wants the police to fine him the way they would fine others, this man who believes in social equality. 

There is much to be said about the President-elect, but observing his son tells us that he at least got being a father right. And isn’t that the most important thing in the world?

* * *

Tweet the author @IrishDDizon.



Photographed by MARK LIMBAGA
Special thanks to JOBE NKEMAKOLAV


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