Model, actor, and businessman—David Licauco wears many hats, but “Pambansang Red Flag” as the character Fidel from Maria Clara at Ibarra was something completely new. But in a matter of weeks, he turned that red flag into a green one as we saw character development from Fidel. It seems that in real life, too, David is someone who believes in always finding and choosing the best version of himself.
“Can we do it in my car?” I was confused for a split second as David Licauco looked hopefully at me. Minutes earlier, he had walked in the small, chic studio, filled with a number of smiling, expectant-looking people who were ready to shoot him for MEGA Man. He had smiled and waved politely at everybody, and as I shook his hand to introduce myself, he looked around, a bit hesitant and distracted.
I had been hoping to do this interview while they were prepping him for hair and makeup, but David asked if we could do it in private instead. It’s a bit unorthodox; while he clearly understood this interview was for public consumption, he didn’t seem comfortable answering questions as the team milled around him doing other things. And because there wasn’t an available closed room, David offered his car.
That’s how I found myself hopping into David’s backseat with him as he took a deep breath and gave me a small smile.
“Shy ka pala?” I ask, turning my recorder on.
“I’m not shy,” he says. “Gusto ko lang…” he trailed off, looking back outside at the studio, where a couple of people were craning their necks at us and probably hoping they could start doing his makeup for this shoot. He turns back to me and gives me a warm nod; now, in the privacy of his space, with the sound of the engine running and the aircon softly whirring, he seemed ready, centered, and focused.
“I’m not used to getting attention,” he admits later, explaining why he requested if we could retreat to his car to talk. “Na-overwhelm ako, ang daming tao.” It’s a little surprising, not only because David’s been an actor for a few years, but he doesn’t seem like a shy type at all. He seems like that bro you have from school who’s warm and nice to everyone, who’s always ready to give you a high five, sling an arm around you and ask you how you are. It’s easy to forget that he has over a million Instagram followers, owns a slew of businesses, models for top brands like Bench Active, and is both a TV and movie star.
“I’m a bit introverted. That’s my real self,” he reveals. “When I’m comfortable with the people around me, that’s the time I get to be myself and be talkative.” He shrugs. “But I’m in the showbiz industry.”
And his career is just getting warmed up. David’s been in the industry for years, turning heads for his charming, Chinito-boy charm (being 1st runner-up in Mr. and Ms. Chinatown was actually one of his first breakout moments) and then getting into modeling. Since then, David has had made the transition into acting, getting roles in TV shows like Mulawin vs Ravena and Heartful Café. But with his role in GMA’s surprise hit Maria Clara at Ibarra, there suddenly was an avalanche of attention. After years obsessed with bingeing seasons straight or watching snippets of shows on YouTube, Maria Clara at Ibarra was one of the first local teleseryes that brought people back to their televisions everyday. Once again, watching Filipino television felt like a shared cultural moment, with people tuning in every night and burning Twitter with their hot takes and hashtags. What made it even more amazing that it was based on Jose Rizal’s seminal and significant novels. In the show, nursing student Klay (played by Barbie Forteza) suddenly finds herself transported back in time, in the middle of the world of Noli Me Tangere. Aside from the characters we know and love (and hate), she runs into David’s character Fidel, Crisostomo Ibarra’s best friend, who doesn’t exist in the novel but ends up capturing her Gen Z heart anyway.
Fidel the red flag
Playing Fidel was a bit of a challenge for David. While the other actors could get insight on their characters from the novel directly, he had to do research on the history and the culture of the 1800s, gleaning what he could to build and understand his character. Of course, he had to transform into the ginoo of that era. “The Spanish words, sobrang hirap, and the deep Tagalog,” he agrees. “But like any other challenge, if you practice, mafi-figure out mo how to do it.”
The other challenge was realizing the character was not exactly a good guy. In fact, a few weeks into the show, people dubbed him the “Pambansang Red Flag.” Behind his dapper, gentlemanly garb and educated mastery of Filipino, Spanish, and English, Fidel was sexist, self-centered, even matapobre. He thought women should be relegated at home. He thought the poor were the way they were because they were lazy. As summarized by an annoyed Klay under her breath in one of the episodes: “Basher na, manyak pa.” (The manyak part was an exaggeration; the basher part, unfortunately not so much.)
“Siyempre, at that time, I worried about it,” David recalls about considering playing Fidel “Like, why am I playing a role na medyo masama, someone who doesn’t care about other people?” But as he worked on the character, he started to see that Fidel may have been a product of his time, but he was not going to get stuck there, especially after Klay started showing him the error of his ways. Slowly, he started to change for the better until he became the adored fan favorite. “I really like Fidel,” he shares. “He’s all about self-improvement and character development. At the start, red flag siya na eventually naging green flag. Parang he did not know what to do in life, but eventually because of the character of Klay, he started to know what he wanted and he went for it—which is Klay and fighting for what’s right.”
By the time the show ended last month, Fidel was a beloved character that, despite his deep devotion for Klay, had chosen to continue fighting for the revolution against the Spaniards instead of escaping with her to our time—a noble green flag who would fight for our freedom. (Thankfully, Klay’s firefly friend would eventually lead her back into the forest and she would find Fidel through the portal once again.) While he is already feeling the “sepanx” from the world of Maria Clara at Ibarra, he can’t help but feel grateful for the very intense and fulfilling months he spent as Fidel. “Because of Maria Clara at Ibarra, so many things happened in my life, like right now you’re interviewing me. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, and I’m very thankful.” He sighs ruefully. “And sad [that it’s over].” Of course, playing Fidel is something he’ll never forget. “Na-appreciate ko siya along the way and going back, life is about character development and self-improvement every single day.”
Focusing on himself
Self-improvement seems like something that David relates with very much. Despite all the success he has in showbiz and his many business endeavors, he continues to seek to be the best version of himself. Even on TikTok, he mostly follows self-improvement accounts. It sounds daunting and exhausting to chase after an impossible ideal, but he doesn’t overthink it. In fact, it all boils down to the small things—which for him, starts with his morning routine.
“I believe that how you start your day is how you live your day,” he says. “Morning routine is very, very crucial to my life.” It’s obvious how important this is to David; he visibly perks up and sits up straighter as he tells me about his morning routine. He starts the day with exercise and then a cold shower (“search mo sa Internet,” he eggs me. “It really works!”), then he tries to get in a book or a podcast. He picks up his copy of 13 Things Mentally Strong People Don’t Do by Amy Morin beside him. “Eto o, kanina nagbabasa ako!” he says, grinning. “Pero page 20 pa lang ako.”
Of course, he’s not mentally strong everyday; after all, everyone is on page 20 of something they’re trying to achieve. “I have my bad days. Pero I try my best.” After all, he has so much on his plate as a multihyphenate, not to mention a million external things trying to grab his attention, from social media to Poblacion parties. “Daming distraction sa buhay,” he laments. “You just have to be focused. Meditation really helps with that.” Aside from meditation, which is part of his beloved routine, he tries his best not to use his phone in the morning. “Sa start, hindi ako nagpho-phone! Pag nasa car ako, I don’t look at or use my phone, I just look outside, ganyan,” he says, looking out the window for emphasis. “Para I’ll be in that present state and be in the moment, kasi that helps me throughout the day.”
Active life and active style
Being active also helps keep him focused, which has always been a huge part of his life. He started playing basketball when he was in 5th grade and fell in love with it so much that he tried out for varisty. “Pero hindi ako nakuha,” he laughs. “Failure!” He shrugged and chalked it up to needing to work harder, and the very next year he finally got in. He played throughout high school and college, and then started lifting weights. Now, he works on twice a day. “I never stop working out,” he chuckled, a bit guiltily. “It not only not gives you the confidence from the outside, but [helps your] mental state. When you work out, you get clarity also. Your mind is clear.”
His active lifestyle also bleeds into his personal style. “I’m a low-key person,” David explains. “I’m very much into low-key brands.” In fact, he’s not big on brands. He focuses on quality and comfort. “To be honest with you, I only get the first shirt that I see—unless it’s a date,” he adds cheekily. But even without trying, he always looks effortlessly cool, clean-cut and casual, with a little bit of his mobile and sporty lifestyle peeking through. In fact, he spends quite a bit of time waxing on about how much he loves his running shoes, and how he wears them even to the mall and parties because they are “life-changing.” He laughs when I ask him who he gets style inspiration from—aside from David Milan, a stylist he works with (“idol ko siya in fashion,” he declares), he also looks to the people around him. “When I was in high school, I had this friend who is very fashionable. He’s my best friend, so siyempre na-influence ako.” David would notice how stylish his friend was, maybe rocking a slimmer silhouette of jeans or a cooler way to wear his Dunks, and he ended up copping some of his own styles. “Peer pressure! It’s always about peer pressure and who you surround yourself with.” Thankfully, all his peers back in grade school and high school dressed well, and even more when he went to the De la Salle – College of St. Benilde. “My building was the SDA (School of Design and Arts), so you get inspiration from everybody,” he says. “If you’re just aware, makikita mo lahat, madami kang matututunan.”
The next step
But while David enjoys shopping occasionally and trying on different looks, he says he still doesn’t get satisfaction from buying himself clothes. “My mom buys for me,” he laughs. In fact, he still also lives with his family and remains very close with them. He may be a lot more famous now, but he feels he hasn’t changed. “My life has been sort of the same since grade school or high school. The way I am to my friends, minsan gago pa rin ako. Most of the time gago pa rin ako,” he says with a laugh. “It’s the same as I was. It’s just that I have more responsibilities now.”
That’s why he is able to relate to Axel, his character in his latest movie Without You with Shaira Diaz that was released last month as well. “Parang ako din medyo eh!” he jokes, then shakes his head. “Hindi naman…pero gets? ‘Yun naman talaga ‘yung mga problems na hinaharap ng mga bachelor, whether to settle down or pursue your career. Do you still want to have fun or settle down? I mean, my age, my friends around me, ganon din mga problems, nakaka-resonate kami sa character.”
While David isn’t settling down anytime yet, he already knows his next step—to move out. “That’s my goal, by end of this year kasi,” he declares. “I feel like it’s the right time! And I’m pretty sure marami kang matututunan kapag you start living alone.” I ask him if he knows how to do household chores. “I don’t do chores…yet!” he interjects, a little sheepish, but obviously excited to learn.
But David is not a man who is afraid to start from scratch or shies away from hard work. In fact, he thrives on learning and putting his head down to work, whether it’s in household chores or his career. In fact, despite his fans and followers, he doesn’t see himself as a superstar—not “pa-artista,” as he puts it. “Showbiz is like any other job,” he shrugs. “We’re all just trying to figure out life and earn money for our future, and future families.”
And as someone who wants to be successful in every job he takes, David already understands that there’s no magic formula “It’s all about persistence and hard work,” he says simply. “If you have these traits, you’ll be successful.”
And focus. It’s something that kept coming up throughout our talk, his eagerness to be disconnected and away from distractions, his efforts to learn and practice mental strength. Apparently, it wasn’t his shyness that led us to the backseat of his car, but his desire to keep laser focused on the interview first, and the shoot later. “Kasi sa business, for you to succeed, you need to be creative,” he explains. “For you to be creative, you need to be bored. It’s hard to be in that mental state, that you’re creative and in that zen mode. Marami akong ginagawa for me to be on that level.”
With that drive and desire for success, we can expect so many more great things from David, but he’s not trying to bite off more than he can chew. He simply focuses on himself and the things he can control. “For me, the most important thing is fixing yourself, fixing your system as a person,” he says. “If you’re working out, you’re meditated, you have a clear mind, you’re mentally strong—those are the traits that will lead you to success. Whether it’s success in business or basketball, or being in a corporate setting, or kahit anong industry, you really have to start within yourself.”
Photography PATRICK DIOKNO
Creative Direction MARC YELLOW assisted by ANDREW ENCAPAS
Fashion Direction RYUJI SHIOMITSU
Styling DAVID MILAN
Grooming NATHAN FEROLINO
Sittings Editor DONG RONQUILLO
Furniture STUDIO YAKAL
Shoot Coordination KZ FRANCISCO and MJ ALMERO
Shot on Location RO CREATIVE STUDIO