AN article published recently in the Hong Kong-based South China Morning Post (SCMP) that claimed that a sister company of the controversial Cambridge Analytica helped President Duterte win the 2016 elections by advising him to adopt a tough crime-fighter branding turns out to be the perfect example of fake news, maliciously and deliberately contrived.
Rappler.com delighted in the fake news, and echoed it by posting an article that claimed that for this task, Cambridge Analytica used “Facebook data of 1.1 million Filipinos.”
The SCMP article had a sarcastic title: “How Cambridge Analytica’s parent company helped ‘man of action’ Rodrigo Duterte win the 2016 Philippine election.”
The truth is the exact opposite: It was former President Benigno S. Aquino 3rd whom the Cambridge Analytica’s affiliate Strategic Communications Laboratories (SCL) advised to adopt a tough crime-fighter branding.
In her article, Robles, an unpaid blogger most of her working time, claimed that SCL “boasted in its website that it helped get Duterte elected in 2016 by rebranding him as a tough crime fighter.”
The SCL didn’t even identify Duterte, and the blogger’s sole basis for this was a post in its website, with its image in her article:
“Facing national elections, the incumbent client was widely perceived as kind and honorable — qualities his campaign team thought were potentially election-winning. By contrast, SCL’s research showed that many groups within the electorate were more likely to be swayed by qualities such as ‘tough‘ and ‘decisive‘. Using the cross-cutting issue of crime, SCL rebranded the client as a strong, non-nonsense man of action.“
To hint that SCL even tried to hide its help for Duterte, the blogger claimed that SCL removed the “website content about the 2016 election, although archived versions are still visible in the internet.”
Even as the “strong, non-sense man of action” would seem to be Duterte, the SCL wasn’t referring to the 2016 but to the 2010 elections, when he was still Davao mayor and not in his wildest dreams had he thought he’d be president.
The indisputable proof that the SCL was referring to the 2010 elections is the brochure that was posted was dated 2013. The Wayback Machine where the blogger got the brochure also had a time-stamp that showed that it was posted on November 15, 2013. (The nonprofit Wayback Machine, since 2001, has been preserving and making available to the public web content, even if these are deleted by its producers.)
That there is absolutely no doubt that SCL was referring to the 2010 elections is proven in another SCL web content posted September 26, 2010 that read:
“SCL Elections [the name of the SCL unit] 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.”
After 2013 and through 2016, SCL no longer reported the Philippines as a client. Only Kenya, South Africa, India, Thailand and Indonesia were its international clients.
Either Robles was stupendously stupid, or deliberately ignored the time stamps on the SCL’s posts which showed that it was impossible that Duterte was its client. She even wove a web of lies by claiming that former SCL executive Alexander Nix had met with now PCOO undersecretary Joel Egco, whom she hinted was Duterte’s link with the firm.
That is so totally absurd, but so typical of this travesty of a journalist. Egco was president of the National Press Club, and he met Nix when the latter gave a talk on the role of mobile phone texting in elections.
Egco, who was a senior reporter of this newspaper, got to join the government only in the course of the NPC’s lobbying for the government to include the press organization’s representatives in its efforts to prevent more killings of journalists. I met Egco when I was also Manila Times editorial consultant, and my impression then was he was even critical of Duterte. How could he be such an insider that he would be the liaison with SCL?
My sources in the Aquino camp alleged that it was his cousin Rapa Lopa, formerly president of polling firm Pulse Asia who contracted the SCL’s services, which cost P50 million, paid in dollars, shouldered allegedly by another cousin, they tycoon Antonio Cojuangco, Jr. Lopa asked Yolanda Ong of Campaigns and Grey, to implement the SCL’s recommendations for Aquino’s campaign strategy.
The Aquinos have been big believers of foreign political consulting groups, as it was a pioneer in this field, the US-based Sawyer Miller that engineered Cory’s extremely successful PR in the fight against Marcos that led to the EDSA revolt. I was told that it was the firm’s close-in adviser to Cory for this, the British Malloch Brown (also Smartmatic chairman) who recommended SCL, owned by his countrymen, to Aquino.
Despite SCL’s boast that it won the presidency for Aquino, the “branding” it recommended for him as a tough crime-fighter wasn’t adopted by his campaign camp. Obviously, it was inane advice, as it would have been like rebranding a Forest Gump into a Dirty Harry.
The Yellow Cult adopted a more effective branding strategy: Noynoy as the son of Saint Cory. The Yellows ridiculed SCL’s advice so that no party in the 2016 elections thought of contracting it.
Ironically, it was Duterte who for decades had that Dirty Harry branding, which he exploited to the hilt in the 2016 elections. For that blogger to claim that a British, US-based firm recommended that kind of image is the height of colonial mentality. Or depths of inanity.
This episode though is as hilarious as in a comedy where a sycophantic servant strives to please his master, only to end up shooting him in the foot. With this fake SCL article, Aquino and the Yellow Cult are again revealed to have stupidly spent huge amounts of money to buy vapid advice from foreigners.