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Duterte on supposed 'cyber army': I don't need online defenders

President Rodrigo Duterte waves to well-wishers at the Noi Bai International Airport in Vietnam on September 29. Presidential Photographers Division/King Rodriguez, file
MANILA, Philippines — President Rodrigo Duterte stressed he does not need online defenders and does not care if his approval ratings go down after an Oxford University study suggested that around P10 million was spent for trolls to peddle his messages and harass his critics.
 
According to the study, about 400 to 500 pro-Duterte cyber troops were hired to harass those who disagree with them and to post messages supportive of the government.
 
Fake accounts were supposedly used in the Philippines to spread propaganda and false news and to create “an artificial sense of popularity, momentum or relevance.” Duterte’s party Partido Demokratiko Pilipino-Lakas ng Bayan (PDP-Laban), a social media manager, volunteer groups and paid citizens form part of his online army, the study said.
 
PDP-Laban, through its information officer Ronwald Munsayac, has denied hiring or using online trolls.
 
Asked to react to the study in a press briefing last Monday, Duterte said: “Sa election siguro (Perhaps during the elections)… And they were all during the campaign. Pero ngayon, hindi ko naman kailangan (But I do not need that now).”
 
“You know, I do not need to defend myself from attacks. I’ve stated my piece during my inauguration and during the campaign,” he added.
 
Duterte said he does not need to enhance his popularity because he is no longer eligible for a reelection.
 
“I really don’t care if my ratings go up or down. That is not of significance to me. I cannot run anymore. I will just do what is best for my country. And I do not hunger for ratings. I do not even look at it. And I do not comment on it,” he added.
 
 

'I have followers'

Duterte admitted though that he has online supporters including controversial blogger Margaux “Mocha” Uson who was appointed Presidential Communications assistant secretary after a brief stint as a member of the movie and television censorship board.
 
“I have followers… One of them is Mocha. But Mocha has been with me during the campaign. She offered her services free. Now that I won, out of gratitude…I appointed her as social media secretary,” the president said.  
 
Duterte defended Uson from critics who claimed that she is not fit for the post because of her stint as sexy dancer and sex adviser
 
“Cannot a lowly dancer in this Republic, in this country, can they not aspire to be somebody someday? She knows how to speak English. Her English is not broken. And she deals with everybody. She is a friend of the military and a friend of all. Why should I not hire her?” he said.
 
Duterte claimed he did not pay anyone to write positive things about him. He said he is ready to step down if anyone proves that he offered money to enhance his image.
 
While claiming to be indifferent to perceptions about his image, Duterte had harsh words for the university that commissioned the study.
 
“Oxford University? Eskuwelahan sa mga bobo ‘yan (That’s a school for the dumb),” Duterte said. 
 
The University of Oxford ranked first in the Times Higher Education World University Rankings 2016-2017 and sixth in the QS World University Rankings 2016-2017. The university has had at least 51 Nobel laureates among its graduates, attendees and staff.
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