MANILA (Reuters) - Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte’s election victory in 2016 did not rely on information bought from anybody and his campaign team did not hire political consultancy Cambridge Analytica, his spokesman said on Tuesday.
The Britain-based Cambridge Analytica is at the centre of a controversy over harvested personal data about users of Facebook, which was used to target voters in the U.S. presidential election and Britain’s 2016 referendum on European Union membership.
A report last week in the South China Morning Post newspaper said that Cambridge Analytica’s parent firm, Strategic Communications Laboratories (SCL), had made the claim that it helped put Duterte in office.
But presidential spokesman Harry Roque said that was far from the case and Duterte’s win was “fair and square”. He said his then campaign treasurer and current finance minister, Carlos Dominguez, had assured him no transactions had taken place with Cambridge Analytica.
Duterte’s victory should not be undermined with “unsubstantiated allegations”, Roque said in a statement.
British legislators have questioned Alexander Nix, the suspended Cambridge Analytica chief executive, over his role in harvesting data from millions of Facebook users.
Outside the United States, the largest amount of user data acquired by Cambridge Analytica was from the Philippines.
The country’s National Privacy Commission, citing information it was given by Facebook, said it had data from 1.17 million Filipino accounts.
In a statement posted on its website on Monday, Cambridge Analytica said it did not “hack” Facebook and that a research company “licensed the data to us, which they legally obtained via a tool provided by Facebook”.
“To be clear: Cambridge Analytica did not illegally or inappropriately collect or share data with anybody else,” it said.
The South China Morning Post report said Nix had dined in Manila a year before the election with Jose Gabriel “Pompee” La Viña and Peter Tiu Laviña, who played key roles in Duterte’s campaign, which relied heavily on social media, mainly Facebook, to get him elected.
Recent research has shown Filipinos spend more time on social media than people of any other country.
La Viña described the newspaper report as “not entirely accurate” saying he met Nix during lunch served at a May 2015 news conference, but had not since been in contact. The newspaper included what it said was a photograph of the meal.
Jose Joel Sy Egco, currently an undersecretary at the presidential communications office, confirmed that Nix was in Manila in May 2015 as guest speaker at a media forum his group organised on the role of information technology in elections.
“That was the first and last time that I met Nix,” Egco told ANC news channel.
The Philippines’ National Privacy Commission said it was seeking updates from Facebook on measures taken to mitigate the risks that ensued from the controversy.
Reporting by Enrico dela Cruz; additional reporting by Neil Jerome Morales; Editing by Martin Petty