Months after the global coronavirus outbreak in 2020, the United States Department of Defense (DoD) funded the establishment of a modern biosurveillance laboratory to research on emerging infectious diseases in animals, particularly on birds and hogs.

The US-DoD Defense Threat Reduction Agency (DRTA) helped set up a Department of Agriculture-operated regional animal disease diagnostic laboratory (RADDL) in Tarlac to protect livestock and poultry, specifically from bird flu and the African Swine Fever that almost decimated the country’s hog population in Luzon.

The Tarlac facility is part of an integrated network of biosafety and biosecurity laboratories that aims to identify diseases prior to them spreading throughout the region and in the country and help mitigate risks.

There are five other RADDL facilities in the Philippines – Cagayan Valley, Cebu, Cagayan de Oro, Davao City, and General Santos City. The US DRTA has been providing $25 million in funding to biosurveillance facilities in the country since 2016.

William Dar, the previous government’s agriculture secretary, also said the Duterte government planned to set up a P245-million peso transboundary animal disease center at the Central Luzon State University in Muñoz, Nueva Ecija.

But the agriculture department has not reported any progress in fighting the animal diseases as the African Swine Fever (ASF) continues to affect the hog population in the Visayas and bird flu has been detected in the Ilocos region and in Camiguin in Mindanao.

Nothing was heard of the transboundary animal disease center, which was supposed to be funded by the “Bayanihan to Recover As One” or the Bayanihan 2 fund during the pandemic.

It appears the bird flu and ASF situations in the country have not improved even after the US-funded facility was put up.

The agriculture department must reassess how effective these RADDLs are in the fight against ASF and bird flu in the country. The Bayanihan 2 funds must also be audited to find out if these were put to good use in preventing further ASF and bird flu outbreaks in the country.

The agriculture department, under President Ferdinand Marcos Jr., should also examine the US Department of Defense program to fund a biosurveillance laboratory in the country.

Some questions had been raised over US funding on biosurveillance research in other countries after the coronavirus outbreak in Wuhan, China in 2020.

For instance, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) suspended funding to a New York-based non-government organization doing research to prevent pandemic and conservation of forests, particularly in Southeast and Western Asia.

In particular, the US terminated its research grant to EcoHealth Alliance, which focuses on studying diseases caused by deforestation and increased interaction between humans and wildlife, after it failed to turn over lab notebooks and other documents from its partner in Wuhan.

In 2020, EcoHealth Alliance secured a working arrangement with the Wuhan Institute of Virology, which became controversial after the coronavirus outbreak in China.

EcoHealth Alliance has done research on emerging infectious diseases such as severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS), Nipah virus, Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS), Rift Valley fever, and the Ebola virus in Africa.

If there were some concerns raised in the US Department of Health’s funding of a health-related NGO research on emerging infectious diseases, there should be red flags when the Pentagon funds animal disease research at the Philippine Department of Agriculture.

It should be the US Department of Agriculture that should cooperate on research on animal diseases with the local farm sector. Or it should be the US Department of Health doing work with local health agencies.

The US Threat Reduction Agency is the Pentagon’s combat support arm to counter weapons of mass destruction (WMD), including chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear, and high explosives (CBRNE).

It becomes highly suspicious when a US agency tasked to counter CBRNE becomes involved in research on animal diseases in the Philippines for the purpose of fighting ASF and bird flu.

There are speculations the US Dod’s DRTA must be up to something other than bird flu and ASF in a Level 3 biosafety laboratory in the Philippines. If it’s proven that the US has been conducting biological weapons research in the Philippines, then it has serious implications for the country.

First, it poses a great risk of a major laboratory accident that may affect the population in nearby areas where the facility is located. There had been speculations the coronavirus pandemic was caused by a biological weapons laboratory in China.

Second, it can make the country a target of US adversaries that may be interested in shutting down these facilities for potential biological warfare development.

The Philippines should not be made a guinea pig for research on weapons of mass destruction.

There should be transparency in these kinds of arrangements between the Pentagon and the agriculture department to remove doubts on the real purpose of the research on animal diseases when there is no progress made in dealing with bird flu and ASF in the country.

There are concerns the animal disease program will continue and even expand under a Marcos administration, which is seen sliding swiftly into the American sphere of influence after six years of “close friendship” with China.

Marcos could take the blame if a major biological accident or an incident happened under his watch.

Bongbong Marcos should immediately order a deeper investigation into the Pentagon’s deal with the agriculture department, which he himself heads as secretary, to dispel speculations about a secret research on biological warfare program.