MANILA - Malacañang on Tuesday denied that President Rodrigo Duterte had availed of the services of a British political consulting firm currently at the center of a controversy involving the improper sharing of data from millions of Facebook accounts.
The Duterte campaign team was dragged into the controversy involving Cambridge Analytica after they were seen in a May 2015 photograph with Alexander Nix, then board director of Cambridge Analytica parent company Strategic Communications Laboratories (SCL).
Facebook admitted last week that 1.2 million Filipinos were among 87 million users whose data was "improperly shared" by Cambridge Analytica.
The privacy scandal raised concerns over the security of data shared on the world's largest social network, and whether it can be used to influence elections.
Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque said Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez, treasurer of the Duterte campaign team, “assures that he did not pay anything to Cambridge Analytica nor did he transact with them.”
“The President won the election fair and square with an overwhelming mandate of over 16 million votes and a margin of over six million. Support for the former Davao city mayor was from all sectors and not just from Facebook or online; thus, the Duterte campaign did not have to purchase information,” Roque said in a statement.
“We should respect the President’s landslide victory, which was a result of the trust and confidence of the Filipino people, and not undermine it with unsubstantiated allegations.”
Aside from Nix, four Duterte supporters were in the picture: cousins Peter Laviña and Jose Gabriel "Pompee" La Viña, then National Press Club president Joel Sy Egco, and Taipan Millan, identified in the report as a family friend of the Dutertes.
The photo was posted on the Facebook page of Peter Laviña, who was appointed by Duterte as irrigations chief but had to resign amid corruption allegations.
Pompee La Viña, who served under Duterte as Social Security System commissioner, said the South China Morning Post report on the picture which said they "dined" with Nix was "not entirely accurate."
The NPC served lunch to all its guests during the event on May 14, 2015 and it was Nix who sat down with their group, La Viña said, adding his cousin, Peter Laviña, had the group's photo taken and posted it on the latter's Facebook account.
Foreign "intervention" is a criminal offense under Philippine election laws and offenders can be held liable if the offense is committed during the campaign period, according to the report. The campaign period for national posts starts 90 days before election day.
News website Quartz reported last week that SCL helped re-brand a candidate in the Philippines into a "strong, no-nonsense man of action," citing documents "from around 2013." It did not identify the candidate.