Duterte supporters deny links to Cambridge Analytica even after photo with company CEO surfaces

Screencap of Peter Laviña’s Facebook post. (Photo from ABS-CBN News)

What’s on the internet can never be truly erased. Supporters of Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte learned this the hard way when a photo of them with Cambridge Analytica CEO Alexander Nix surfaced over the weekend.

According to a report on the South China Morning Post (SCMP), the photo was taken in 2015 at a National Press Club event in Manila.

Seen in the photo are Nix, Jose Gabriel “Pompee” La Viña, Duterte’s social media manager during the 2016 Presidential campaign; Joel Sy Egco, then the National Press Club president and currently a Presidential Communications Operations Office Undersecretary; and Rey Faizal Ponce Millan (aka Taipan Millan), a friend of the Duterte family and the chairman of Istratehiya Inc., a strategic communications and political operations company.

During the event, Nix gave a talk about how his company uses data for political campaigning.

It was earlier reported by the SCMP that Cambridge Analytica’s parent company, Strategic Communication Laboratories (SCL), is responsible for branding Duterte as a tough-on-crime politician, an image that paved the way for his victory.

The Philippines is considered the social media capital of the world, and the Duterte campaign tapped into this by setting up troll armies found to have been headed by advertising and PR executives.

But it’s also thanks to social media that the photo of Nix with the Duterte supporters was found. It was posted on Facebook by La Viña’s cousin Peter La Viña, who is also in the picture.

When presented with the proof he had met Nix, Pompee said that he has not seen him since then.

“I have not met, talked to, communicated with, nor otherwise been in contact with Mr. Nix since that day,” he told ABS-CBN News.

He also told online outlet Rappler that he was impressed by Nix’s presentation but said that the campaign could not afford SLC’s services.

“Honestly, I like what I heard from him but we couldn’t afford a consultant like him,” he said.

Millan, the other man in the photo, has also been linked to SCL.

Rappler reported that SCL’s website included Istratehiya Inc., a company Millan chairs, as its local office in the Philippines. However, Istratehiya president Jed Eva III denied any affiliation to SCL.

He confirmed Millan and Nix met in 2015 and “exchanged notes” about campaigns around the world but that the two companies never formally worked together.

Eva also said that Millan was not involved in Duterte’s campaign in any way.

“While Istratehiya Chairman Atty. Taipan Millan hails from Davao, he was not, at any point, part of the president’s campaign,” he said.

Cambridge Analytica is at the center of a privacy scandal that has raised concerns about the use of Facebook data. The social media platform was found to have improperly shared data from 87 million accounts with Cambridge Analytica, a British political consultancy firm.

In a statement released by Facebook last week, it revealed that the Philippines had the second-largest number of affected accounts at 1.175 million users, next only to the United States.

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