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Cambridge Analytica’s parent firm claims it won 2010 election for PH president

Natashya Gutierrez
Cambridge Analytica’s parent firm claims it won 2010 election for PH president
EXCLUSIVE: Butch Abad, the campaign manager of former president Benigno Aquino III, denies any involvement with Strategic Communication Laboratories and says its claims may be 'total fabrication'

MANILA, Philippines – The parent company of Cambridge Analytica said in 2010 that it was not only involved in the Philippine presidential elections, it also boasted that it “successfully won the election for their candidate.”

In a 2010 archived version of Strategic Communication Laboratories’ (SCL) website, the Philippines appeared under “Case Histories” in the “Client Successes” section of SCL Elections.

The blurb on the Philippines reads:

“SCL Elections was asked to run the election campaign for a Presidential candidate; this included managing all aspects of the campaign including research, strategy and output over a seven-month period. SCL Elections successfully won the election for their candidate.”

The blurb has since been taken down and it no longer exists in SCL’s current website.

PHILIPPINE CLIENT. The 2010 version of SCL's website claims it ran the election campaign of a presidential candidate in the Philippines. Screenshot from web.archive.org

The archive of the web page was captured in September 2010, about 4 months after the May 2010 presidential elections. The link was captured on web.archive.org, run by The Internet Archive, a non-profit focused on building a digital library of Internet sites.

While the blurb did not specify if it referred to the most recent Philippine polls, a photo of Filipinos lining up to cast their ballots appeared alongside the text.

Rappler performed a reverse image search on the photo and found that the photo was indeed taken on May 10, 2010 – the day of the presidential elections. 

The SCL blurb also did not mention the name of their client, but it was the Liberal Party’s President Benigno Aquino III who won in 2010. 

2010 ELECTIONS. A reverse image search shows that the photo posted with the blurb on the Philippines was taken on May 10, 2010. Screenshot from tineye.com

‘A big lie’

The SCL Group was founded in the United Kingdom in 1993 but it wasn’t until October 2012 that it registered a subsidiary named SCL Elections – which was focused on new technology that can be used for campaigns.

In SCL documents however, it claims that SCL Elections has “provided the research, strategy and execution for over 100 election campaigns worldwide” since 1994. (READ: Cambridge Analytica’s parent company involved in PH polls as early as 2013)

Butch Abad, Aquino’s campaign manager, denied any involvement with SCL.

“I never heard of that group working with the campaign and never met anyone representing that group,” he told Rappler via text message on Tuesday, April 10.

“To claim that they managed ‘all aspects of the campaign’ is a big lie. And the simple reason is that I never encountered that agency or anybody who claimed to represent them.”

Asked about the possibility of a different faction within the campaign having used SCL to aid Aquino, Abad said, “I have no idea if they worked with a group or someone in the campaign.”

During the campaign period, the Aquino camp was known to have been divided between the Balay and Samar groups – those batting for an Aquino-Jejomar Binay tandem belonging to the Samar group, and those pushing for an Aquino-Mar Roxas ticket from the Balay group. (The Balay group took after Roxas’ white house or balay na puti, while the Samar group led by Paquito Ochoa was based in an old house on Samar Street in Quezon City. Ochoa later became Aquino’s executive secretary.)

Abad also said that even assuming SCL worked with someone in the presidential campaign, “it would not have been difficult to know, especially if they claim to have managed ‘all aspects of the campaign.’”

Other Aquino campaign insiders who Rappler talked to also denied any knowledge of SCL working with the former president’s campaign.

SCL controversies

If SCL was indeed involved in the 2010 Philippine elections as it claims, the controversial technique that has gotten Cambridge Analytica in trouble did not yet exist. (READ: Duterte social media campaign manager: ‘Nix influenced my work’)

By this time, too, Istratehiya Inc, the local company whom SCL claimed to have a partnership with several years later, had not yet been created. It was incorporated only in 2012. 

While SCL has been around for 25 years, SCL was recently thrust into the spotlight after its offshoot company, Cambridge Analytica, was found to have harvested data from millions of Facebook users to influence their votes in the 2016 US presidential elections. (READ: Cambridge Analytica’s parent company claims ties with Duterte friend)

But it was only in 2014 that Cambridge Analytica acquired the Facebook data they used for the 2016 elections. Cambridge Analytica was founded in 2013, or 3 years after the presidential elections.

The web archive from 2010 is SCL’s earliest mention of a Philippine client so far. 

Aside from the Philippines, SCL claimed to have done work in Southeast Asia, including Indonesia and Thailand in the 2010 version of their website.

CASE HISTORIES. SCL Elections' old website version compiles case studies on Southeast Asia. Screenshot from web.archive.org

While some political experts have expressed doubts about SCL’s claims of influence, Abad refused to even call SCL’s assertion about its involvement in the Philippines in 2010 an exaggeration.

“That may not even be an exaggeration but a total fabrication,” he said.

Rappler sent emails to SCL for comment but all have bounced back. – Rappler.com