On the 4th of April, the liberal Hong Kong based South China Morning Post (SCMP), a publication that is mercilessly critical of the great strides made by the Chinese government, published an article entitled, “How Cambridge Analytica’s parent company helped ‘man of action’ Rodrigo Duterte win the 2016 Philippines election”. The article based its wild assertion on the fact that Cambridge Analyatica’s parent company, the SCL group had the following claim posted on its website, although this claim was subsequently removed and can only be found in web archives or in the screen shot obtained by the SCMP. The claim reads as follows: “In the run up to national elections the incumbent client was widely perceived as both kind and honourable, 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“.
First of all, there is a factual misrepresentation of the current Philippine electoral system as the Constitution prohibits a President from being in office for more than one term. Hence, the idea that SCL/Cambridge Analytica was hired by “the incumbent” is a statement of fiction as there are no presidential incumbents in The Philippines, even though in 2010 Joseph Estrada challenged this rule by seeking a non-consecutive second term.
Secondly and most importantly, Manila Times journalist and former Rigoberto Tiglao accessed archives of the SCL website through the ‘Way Back Machine’ archival search engine and found that the claim cited by the SCMP dates from 2013, three years before Duterte even ran for President. The election that SCL/Cambridge Analytica boasted of winning was in fact the 2010 election where Benigno “Noyoy” Aquino won.
An even older archive from the SCL website shows that the foreign corporation proudly and openly proclaimed that it was able to secure a victory for its client. In 2010, such a person could have only been Noyvoy Aquino.
This makes sense as Aquino has a reputation for being everything but tough and therefore needed to employ foreign election meddlers to fake a ‘tough guy’ image that he objectively lacked and still lacks. By contrast, ever since Duterte first became mayor of Davao in 1988, he had an image as an indisputable tough guy as he not only waged a winning war on drugs from his political office, but he went out and led people in the streets as they purified their city from criminal occupation.
The above photo shows Mayor Duterte in the late 1980s, long before SCL and Cambridge Analytica were companies and long before the internet existed as a means of mass communication. As Rigoberto Tiglao correctly says,
“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: Ninoy 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“.
Indeed, the entire hit piece by the SCMP which was then embellished by Rappler fails to understand that the Diehard Duterte Supporters along with other politically awakened individuals in The Philippines were not a synthetic product of foreign manipulation, but an organic movement that began in Davao before sweeping the nation. Now, Duterte’s leadership of a new forward thinking, outward looking, 21st century style non-aligned Philippines has won support throughout the world.
The great irony in the attempt to link Duterte with Cambridge Analytica/SCL is that, of all the so-called “surprise” electoral victories in the last several years, Duterte’s was the only one without links to foreign data harvesting election meddlers. Donald Trump’s hiring of the firm is not questioned and nor is the campaign for Brexit in the UK. But Duterte’s genuine movement did not require any help and nor was the victory something that happened over night.
The Philippines has been in need of a national figure like Duterte ever since 1987. In 1988 Davao received this, but it was not until 2016 that the country that had been crying out for a firm, history making, economically strong, internationally respected man of the people got what they had been calling for.
True political revolutions do not happen overnight – they are years in the making. Furthermore, a genuine people’s movement cannot be led from abroad unless it is to quickly collapse or descend into chaos shortly thereafter. The genuine political movements that succeed are those which have a genuine base. This is the case with Duterte. The fact that Duterte’s opponents seek to take this victory away from his supporters just serves to demonstrate that they are still unable to come to terms with being on the losing side of history.