THE PHILIPPINES
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Rodrigo Duterte

Revealed: the secret meaning behind the tiny tattoo on Philippine president Duterte’s hand

Philippine president Rodrigo Duterte sports a tattoo of a soldiers’ group that once staged coups to reinstate dictator Ferdinand Marcos

PUBLISHED : Friday, 05 August, 2016, 6:55pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 06 August, 2016, 8:07am

Verbally, Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte says he is a “Leftist” and a “Socialist”.

Etched, however, on his right hand is a small tattoo marking him out as a ranking member of Guardians Brotherhood, a soldiers’ group that once tried to topple then-president Corazon Aquino because she had leftists in her cabinet and to reinstate the ousted strongman Ferdinand Marcos.

Duterte’s presidential adviser on the peace process Jesus Dureza confirmed to South China Morning Post that the tattoo on Duterte’s right hand just below the fold of the thumb and index finger stands for the “Magic Group” of the Guardians Brotherhood. He is the first ever Philippine head of state to sport a tattoo.

“It’s a secret cult,” Dureza jokingly said.

Turning serious, Dureza - a former schoolmate of Duterte - said he too was a member of the same Magic Group and he showed the Post the same tattoo.

“We are members of Guardians Brotherhood. It’s a fraternal group of people. It started as a military fraternal group. Then they got also civilians as members,” Dureza explained.

According to its website, the Guardians Brotherhood started out in 1976 during Marcos’ Martial Law as an informal soldiers’ group known as the “Diablo (Devil) Squad”.

This was ordered disbanded by Marcos’ spy chief General Fabian Ver and former members formally registered it with the Securities and Exchange Commission as a self-help group to improve soldiers’ welfare. A civilian component of mainly lawyers was added.

It started as a military fraternal group. Then they got also civilians as members
Presidential adviser Jesus Dureza

At one point, seven out of every 10 active soldiers and officers were Guardian members, according to the “Davide Commission”, a fact-finding body led by the former chief justice Hilario Davide that investigated the series of failed military coups against the late president Corazon Aquino from 1986 to 1988.

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The commission concluded that the “Guardians have been in nearly each coup attempt since July 1986.”

The commission also noted that based on several of the soldiers’ testimonies, when Guardian members secretly met, they verified their identification to each other by showing the Guardian tattoo. Its placement showed which area the member belonged.

For instance, on November 30, 1989, the Commission said: “At about 7:00 am, Elmer Sagsago, 4th Assistant City Prosecutor of Baguio City, was informed by his niece, Nena Duba, that an unidentified soldier, who showed his Guardian tattoo, came earlier to his residence at Naval Base, Baguio City with a message about an emergency meeting.”

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Dureza said he did not know when Duterte became a Guardian member but he assumed it was after he himself had joined in 1987. The first civilian recruits to the Guardians were lawyers like Duterte and Dureza, who was also once a city prosecutor.

The probe found that the Guardians were heavily anti-communist and pro-Marcos.

During the campaign, Duterte said he was previously anti-communist but has since changed his mind, although he still did not believe in armed revolution. He has also openly called Marcos as “the best President ever” and vowed to have Marcos’ remains buried by next month (September) in the Heroes’ Cemetery in Manila.

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The Guardians actively campaigned for Duterte. One fellow member, Ruben Castor, told news site Rappler that “we love Duterte, especially me. He holds a high position in the Guardians, we love him.”

It is unclear whether the Guardians have changed their minds about the communist rebels. One thing sure, they will stand behind Duterte come hell or high water.