Switzerland a haven for Filipino actor Richard Gutierrez, girlfriend and baby

Actor Richard Gutierrez (with his girlfriend, Swiss-Filipino actress Sarah Lahbati) on his time in the country and with his son Zion (above). -- PHOTO: E!
Actor Richard Gutierrez (with his girlfriend, Swiss-Filipino actress Sarah Lahbati) on his time in the country and with his son Zion (above). -- PHOTO: E!PHOTOS: E!
Actor Richard Gutierrez (above, with his girlfriend, Swiss-Filipino actress Sarah Lahbati) on his time in the country and with his son Zion. -- PHOTO: E!
Actor Richard Gutierrez (above, with his girlfriend, Swiss-Filipino actress Sarah Lahbati) on his time in the country and with his son Zion. -- PHOTO: E!PHOTOS: E!

Actor Richard Gutierrez and his girlfriend lived in the country for two years to keep her pregnancy a secret from the media

Eighteen-month-old Zion Gutierrez's official Instagram fan account (@babyzionthe younglion) has more than 39,000 followers - probably because the Filipino cherub counts high-profile celebrities and politicians among his 50 godparents, including TV host and actress Kris Aquino, and former Filipino president and current Manila mayor Joseph Estrada.

Zion's father, 30-year-old actor Richard Gutierrez, tells Life! with a chuckle in a telephone interview that his son is becoming more famous than either himself or his 21-year-old girlfriend, Swiss-Filipino actress Sarah Lahbati, who is the mother of the child.

"The attention surrounding baby Zion was completely overwhelming at first, but we've adjusted to it. Everywhere we go, people want to take pictures with him.

"The other day, I went to play basketball with some of my guy friends and I took Zion along because he likes getting out. But all my friends wanted to do was go up to him and take pictures with him. I was like, 'Guys, chill out.'"

Gutierrez was fielding media questions to promote Season 2 of his family's reality TV show, It Takes Gutz To Be A Gutierrez, which airs on E! (StarHub TV Channel 441) on Sunday nights.

The show follows the trials and drama of his famous show-business family, which is headed by his parents, former soap opera star Eddie Gutierrez and boisterous actress Annabelle Rama.

Also featured in the show are his actress sister Ruffa and twin brother, talk-show host Raymond. He has three other siblings outside of show business and who are not seen on the show.

The series has been closely followed by fans as it documents the initial secrecy surrounding Zion's arrival in the Philippines.

For the past two years, Gutierrez and girlfriend Lahbati had kept her entire pregnancy and delivery a secret, staying far away from the Filipino media spotlight by living in Lahbati's hometown of Geneva, Switzerland.

When they finally returned to Manila early this year with Zion, who was close to a year old at the time, they covered his stroller with a blanket to avoid public scrutiny.

It was not until a June episode of the show, when Gutierrez finally admitted to the camera that he was a father, that the news surrounding the baby was confirmed.

Looking back, the actor says the couple decided to hide the pregnancy at first to keep his girlfriend as relaxed as possible.

"We really didn't want it to be a media circus because that would have happened if people found out that she was pregnant. She would have been very stressed and we wanted her to have a peaceful pregnancy.

"And it was great being in Switzerland because no one knew who we were over there. We could go to the grocery store and do normal things as a family.

"I think it was a good move. For almost a year, we were able to enjoy some quality alone time with Zion."

As much as he would have liked to stay on as an incognito family in Geneva, he knew they eventually had to return to Manila. "The Philippines is still our home and it's where we work. I'm just happy that people have been really excited about Zion and they really love him, so that's been nice.

"I'm trying to work a little less, to spend more time with him. I try not to take on any new soap operas for now because those really take up time, so it's probably more movies for me at this time," says the actor, who is known for his soaps Together Again (2012) and Full House (2009), and films My Lady Boss (2013) and In Your Eyes (2010).

As to whether he will be marrying his girlfriend anytime soon, he is coy and says there are plans, "but maybe not this year".

"After all the fiasco surrounding Zion and the secret pregnancy, we really just want to have a laidback year. I have some friends who are getting married lately, and all the wedding preparation has just stressed them out completely.

"So maybe we'll get married next year, when we are really prepared and focused on it."

Besides, his fiery mother is already giving him enough drama to handle at the moment.

"My mum is like, 'I've had six kids so I know everything about babies.' So she gives a lot of advice about Zion," he says with a laugh.

"But that's good - we're really happy that everyone's so willing and ready to want to take care of him."

yipwy@sph.com.sg

Follow Yip Wai Yee on Twitter @STyipwaiyee

It Takes Gutz To Be A Gutierrez Season 2 airs on E! (StarHub TV Channel 441) on Sundays at 9pm.