Last week, the United States announced the completion of a P1.1-billion biosurveillance capability project in the Philippines, building or renovating seven regional animal disease laboratories throughout the country.
Little is known about the project funded by the Pentagon, through its Defense Threat Reduction Agency’s (DTRA) Biological Threat Reduction Program (BTRP).
The project, which it ran with the Philippines’s agriculture department, started in 2016 to fight the African Swine Fever (ASF), which has decimated the hog population in the country’s main island of Luzon.
The ASF outbreak created a severe pork crisis as prices soared during the coronavirus pandemic and amid tight supply in wet markets in the capital and nearby provinces.
Some people say the ASF is the equivalent to hogs of the humans’ coronavirus plague.
But the ASF outbreak happened only in 2019 when imported pork infected by the animal disease entered the country and almost ruined the local hog industry.
The Pentagon’s biosurveillance project appeared to have not helped stop the spread of ASF nor provided quick relief to hog raisers and consumers who had been affected by the worst pork crisis in history.
The BTRP has been running in the country for three years, providing bio-safety and security courses, holding table-top exercises as well as numerous laboratory staff workshops through equipment fielding and training.
Except for the laboratories built in Cagayan, Tarlac, and Mindanao, the Pentagon could not offer any proof the project was instrumental to ending the ASF problem.
It’s really strange for the Pentagon to help the Philippines’s agriculture department to develop capabilities against biological threats when it could have focused on helping its closest ally in the region develop vaccines against ASF and even against Covid-19.
One of the US-assisted biosurveillance laboratories in Tarlac has state-of-the-art facilities but nothing has been heard about its work, while the ASF continued to wreak havoc on the swine industry.
There was also no proof the US DoD’s biosurveillance and biosafety laboratories had provided effective measures against avian flu.
But what could be a disturbing development is the plan by the BTRP to expand the program to the human health sector.
The Department of Health has a genemonic center and the Research Institute for Tropical Medicine (RITM) capable of handling biosurveillance and biosafety for human diseases, like coronavirus disease (Covid-19).
Why would the Pentagon work with the Department of Agriculture on biosurveillance for human diseases?
The United States could be building a network of biological weapons laboratories outside of its territory, in flagrant violation of the 1972 Biological Weapons Convention.
At least 183 countries have signed the convention banning the development, production, acquisition, transfer, and stockpiling of biological and toxin weapons.
But big powers, including the United States, have been circumventing the convention to develop more potent biological weapons.
For instance, Washington has provided about $100 billion for offensive biological warfare, according to Prof. Francis Boyle of the University of Illinois in Champaign. Boyle is a human rights lawyer who had worked with Amnesty International.
He said the US had been funding a network of 400 biological laboratories in the US and abroad, testing new strains of offensive killer viruses that are also resistant to vaccines.
One of the germ weapons believed to have been developed by these laboratories, Boyle said, was the super weapons-grade anthrax, which were mailed to two US senators in 2001.
Boyle also told the Chicago Daily News the ebola outbreak in Sierra Leone and Liberia in 2014 could have been created in a Texas laboratory in Galveston but is believed to have been tested in West Africa.
These biological warfare laboratories, which created ebola and weapons-grade anthrax, could be developing more and newer virulent pathogens.
There is a danger the Pentagon-funded laboratories in the country could also be secretly working on biological warfare outside of what it had officially announced — studying animal diseases like ASF.
There has been a lot of speculation on the origin of the deadly coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2) — from a Wuhan laboratory to a US Army experiment.
The Philippines should not be used by the United States as a laboratory in developing offensive biological weapons, as interest in the origins of virulent animal diseases increase around the world.
President Rodrigo Duterte, who has been suspicious of US military activities in the country, should find more about these Pentagon-funded biosurveillance laboratories, which might be testing military-grade toxin weapons.