Duterte campaign team never paid for Cambridge Analytica services – Malacañang

CAMPAIGN SEASON. Then presidential candidate Rodrigo Duterte speaks at his miting de avance days before the 2016 elections. File photo by Rappler

CAMPAIGN SEASON. Then presidential candidate Rodrigo Duterte speaks at his miting de avance days before the 2016 elections.

File photo by Rappler

MANILA, Philippines – Malacañang denied that the campaign team of President Rodrigo Duterte ever transacted with Cambridge Analytica for election-related services.

Presidential Spokesman Harry Roque quoted Finance Secretary Sonny Dominguez in a statement sent to media on Tuesday, April 10.

"The Secretary of Finance, in his capacity as treasurer of the PRRD campaign, assures [the public] that he did not pay anything to Cambridge Analytica nor did he transact with them," said Roque.

Recent reports by Rappler and the South China Morning Post linked Strategic Communications Laboratories, the parent company of Cambridge Analytica, to Duterte associates and some members of his campaign team.

Aside from key members of the campaign team meeting with suspended Cambridge Analytica CEO Alexander Nix in 2015, a local political consultancy firm is listed as a Philippine partner of SCL, Rappler found.

Istratehiya, the local political consultancy firm, counts a friend of Duterte's, Rey Faizal Ponce Millan, as one of its incorporators and directors.

The reports came after Facebook admitted that about 1,175,870 Filipino users may have had their Facebook information improperly shared with Cambridge Analytica.

In the data harvesting scandal, the Philippines was behind the United States only in terms of the number of people whose data was compromised.

But Roque said Duterte won the 2016 elections "fair and square" and had so much organic support that the campaign team had no need to buy any information from Cambridge Analytica.

"Support for the former Davao City mayor was from all sectors and not just from Facebook or online; thus the Duterte campaign did not have to purchase information," said Roque.

However, the social media head of Duterte's campaign, Jose Gabriel "Pompee" La Viña, admitted using some lessons he gleaned from Nix for the campaign.

Notably, Roque, in his statement, does not categorically deny the use of information or inputs from Cambridge Analytica. It is possible, also, that the company's services were donated or purchased by someone from outside the campaign team.

Istratehiya admitted to Rappler that SCL reached out to them for a possible partnership but that nothing materialized after their representatives' meeting with Nix in 2015.

Despite this, Istratehiya is still identified as the Philippine office of SCL on SCL's website.

SCL had already been involved in Philippine elections as early as 2013 when it supposedly helped create an image of a "strong, no-nonsense man of action" for a candidate in a national election, according to documents obtained by Quartz. The name of the candidate was not mentioned but national elections at that time were only for senatorial and congressional positions. – Rappler.com

Pia Ranada

Pia Ranada covers the Office of the President and Bangsamoro regional issues for Rappler. While helping out with desk duties, she also watches the environment sector and the local government of Quezon City. For tips or story suggestions, you can reach her at pia.ranada@rappler.com.