MANILA, Philippines (UPDATED) – Presidential Communications Secretary Martin Andanar denied a report by US-based human rights watchdog Freedom House that the government is paying an "army" of online commenters to skew public opinion in favor of President Rodrigo Duterte's drug war.
"The Presidential Communications Operations Office does not employ a 'keyboard army,'" said Andanar on Friday, November 17, in a statement sent to reporters.
The Freedom House report claimed that paid commenters could earn anywhere from P500 ($10) to up to P2,000 or P3,000 ($40 to $60) daily to drum up support for the administration and attack its critics.
Automated accounts, also called bots, as well as volunteers were used to spread political content, said the report.
But Andanar said support for Duterte online can be attributed to his many supporters.
"What President Duterte has are millions of supporters, 16 million of which turned up at polling precincts throughout the country," said the PCOO chief.
Andanar also asked how Freedom House came up with its report, and said his department would "appreciate it if they can also share how they gathered their data."
The Duterte administration has hired rabid pro-Duterte bloggers as consultants to promote government programs. President Rodrigo Duterte even appointed one of his more influential online defenders, Mocha Uson, as Presidential Communications Assistant Secretary. Uson now works under Andanar.
In a series of reports, Rappler showed how Duterte's presidential campaign team made use of social media to spread support for him.
The campaign made use of a network of volunteers, along with bots and trolls. (READ: Fake accounts, manufactured reality on social media)
Rappler was among the Philippine media sources cited in the Freedom House report on the Philippines, along with CNN Philippines, Philippine Star, GMA News Online, ABS-CBN, Inquirer.net, Manila Times, BusinessMirror, Interaksyon.com, The Freeman, Mindanao Examiner, SunStar Cebu, and Newsbytes.ph,
Among the other sources are The Sydney Morning Herald, Agence France-Presse, telecomasia.net, YugaTech, The New Republic, Google Transparency Report, Facebook, PLDT, Securities and Exchange Commission quarterly reports, National Statistics Office, Supreme Court decisions, Department of Justice resolutions, Philippines laws, the Philippine Constitution, and the Committee to Protect Journalists. – Rappler.com
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.