Who is DOF’s new hire? Duterte’s old social media operator

June 23, 2021 - 12:23 PM
A Facebook logo is pictured in Bordeaux, southwestern France, March 10, 2016. (Reuters/Regis Duvignau/Illustration/File Photo)

A strategist who previously made headlines over his controversial social media activities was hired by a government agency as a communications strategy consultant.

This prompted some Filipinos to air their concerns about his background.

In a notice of award dated June 10, as reported by The Philippine STAR, the Department of Finance announced that it granted a contract to public relations strategist Nicanor Gabunada Jr. worth P909,122 as the agency’s communications strategy consultant.

This contract will reportedly run from June 16 to December 15, 2021.

Work with the DOF: Gabunada was tasked to develop the DOF’s multimedia communications plan, research information to improve its financial communication to the public and also produce a monthly evaluation of the multimedia materials the agency itself sent out.

  • He will also be producing materials for the DOF’s mileage in coordination with the television, radio, print and digital channels.

Flagged by Facebook: In 2019, Nathaniel Gleicher, head of Facebook’s cybersecurity policy, tagged Gabunada in its purge of almost 200 pages and groups which his team found to be engaging in “coordinated inauthentic behavior” on the platform and on Instagram.

READ: Facebook’s purge of pages, accounts linked to Filipino social media manager

Most of these online properties also happened to be the ones spreading false or misleading content online.

This incident was brought up by some concerned users following reports about Gabunada’s new post.

“Wasting taxpayers’ money on propaganda and gaslighting? As if you can gaslight your way out of a financial crisis? How dare you?” one Twitter user wrote.

“They hired a communications strategist kasi election na next year,” another online user claimed.

Others slammed that the hiring of a new communications consultant is a waste of taxpayer’s money given his track record.

“Hays, wasted taxpayer money na naman (sad emoji),” one user said.

“As a taxpayer, I question this,” another user said.

In a statement sent to Interaksyon, Gabunada’s camp defended the consultancy post of their client, and said there’s “nothing inappropriate with it.

“There is nothing inappropriate in the decision of the DOF’s grant of Service Contract for consultancy to our client Nicanor Gabunada Jr. as all requirements and the procedures under the Procurement Law were followed and were done aboveboard,” Gabunada’s lawyer Regie Tongol said in a statement.

“What is illegal and violative of our client’s data privacy rights is the unauthorized disclosure of his personal data for no other purpose but to make him and his family easy targets for threats and ridicule,” he added.

The legal counsel also condemned those who cast doubts on Gabunada’s credentials.

“It is also illegal and libelous to insinuate impropriety in the actions of the DOF to cast doubt as to our client’s credentials and qualification,” Tongol said.

“It is malicious to keep bringing up the solely business prerogative of Facebook in tagging and maligning our client and connecting it with this totally separate and aboveboard agreement. Our client will explore all legal actions against these persons,” he added.

Who is the new consultant?

Gabunada was the man who managed a massive social media campaign for presidential candidate Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte. The effort was reportedly worth P10 million, considering a success for wild card Duterte who won the presidency over personalities of national politics in 2016.

In an old Facebook Live interview, Gabunada said Duterte’s presidential bid was “volunteer work.”

“I still have money to return to the campaign financier. It’s all volunteer work. The entire campaign would have been worth millions, but because it’s all volunteer work, it’s not big,” he said back then.

His former colleague at ABS-CBN, Boo Chanco, is a Philippine Star columnist. For Chanco, Gabunada unwittingly unleashed an online pro-administration army responsible for disinformation.

“I don’t think he is still involved with the machinery and can’t be responsible for what it has become. What he started morphed… assumed a new life beyond winning an election… it is now a machinery for keeping political power,” Chanco wrote last month.

In 2019 though, some pages that Facebook purged out of their platform were found to be linked to a network that Gabunada led.

Facebook removed a total of 67 pages and 68 accounts, 40 groups on Facebook and 25 Instagram accounts at that time.

In a statement, Gleicher explained that coordinated inauthentic behavior is identified when a combination of fake and authentic accounts is used to disseminate content.

“They frequently posted about local and political news, including topics like the upcoming elections, candidate updates and views, alleged misconduct of political opponents, and controversial events that were purported to occur during previous administrations,” he said.

Gabunada, meanwhile, said he felt “singled out’ when Facebook mentioned his name in its removal of pages.

“I have a feeling that I was singled out whereas the pro-opposition pages were not,” he said.