Duterte campaign officer: Cambridge Analytica had no hand in presidential run

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, April 12) — An officer in the campaign team of President Rodrigo Duterte maintained political data firm Cambridge Analytica was not involved in the 2016 national elections.

Social Media Campaign Director Jose Gabriel "Pompee" La Viña explained on Thursday the photo circulating on social media showing some members of the Duterte campaign team meeting with Cambridge Analytica Chief Executive Officer Alexander Nix.

"The NPC (National Press Club) invited us to go. We were reaching out to the NPC because Mayor Duterte then was weighing a run for presidency, and we were in the media, and Peter La Viña was Head of Media so he wanted to connect and renew his membership to the NPC," La Viña told CNN Philippines' On The Record.

The photo shows Nix sharing a meal with Duterte campaign team members Pompee and Peter La Viña, then NPC President Joel Egco, and Atty. Taipan Millan. La Viña said the NPC paid for the meal.

He also said the photo was taken at the NPC Building in Manila on March 14, 2015, over a year before the May 2016 national elections.

La Viña added he just tagged along with his cousin Peter La Viña, who was the one who got invited. He also said he didn't know who Nix was before the event.

"When we got there, there was a press conference. It was open…[Nix] made a presentation there, then there were two or three questions. I wanted to ask a question but I was too shy. After the press conference, they fed us," he said.

La Viña also said during the time, Duterte's campaign team was not focusing on social media.

"The mind of the campaign was on traditional media, not even social media. Peter was more interested in broadsheets and networks of course," he said.

Presidential spokesperson Harry Roque earlier said Duterte's campaign team did not pay for Cambridge Analytica's services during the 2016 national elections.

Cambridge Analytica involved in elections?

The South China Morning Post reported on April 4 the parent firm of Cambridge Analytica, Strategic Communications Laboratories (SCL), wrote on its website that it helped get an unnamed Philippine presidential candidate elected in 2016 by presenting him as a "strong, no-nonsense man of action" to appeal to the voters.

The SCL website page has been taken down, but the international news site was able to retrieve its archived versions.

The SCL web content read, "In the run up to national elections the incumbent client was widely perceived as both kind and honorable, qualities his campaign team thought were potentially election-winning. But SCL's research showed that many groups within the electorate were more likely to be swayed by qualities such as toughness and decisiveness. SCL used the cross-cutting issue of crime to rebrand the client as a strong, no-nonsense man of action, who would appeal to the true values of the voters."

Duterte is known for his tough stance against illegal drugs, corruption, and terrorist, among other issues. The clenched iron-fist hand gesture quickly became a symbol to show support for the President.

In a separate report, South China Morning Post also revealed that in May 2015 a board director of Strategic Communications Laboratories dined with men who will become key figures in Duterte's presidential campaign.

It said Nix who met with Pompee La Viña and Peter La Viña, who became Duterte's social media director and campaign spokesperson respectively during the 2016 national elections.

Cambridge Analytica is in hot water for its alleged improper harvesting of over 87 million Facebook data worldwide. In the Philippines, the personal data of 1.2 million Facebook users have been compromised, the National Privacy Commission said.

The controversial data firm also worked for Donald Trump's presidential campaign.

The New York Times reported Cambridge Analytica was working to develop techniques that could be used to influence voters.

CNN Philippines' Senior Digital Producer Lara Tan contributed to this story.