As the battle for control of Ukraine’s eastern region, particularly in Donbas, continues to rage and the conflict in Eastern Europe enters its fourth month, a different battle between Russia and the United States is being fought on the floors of the United Nations.
Russia has accused Ukraine’s military of carrying out dangerous biological warfare operations along its western borders, posing a threat to global biosecurity.
In a recent UN disarmament meeting, Moscow said it obtained information that “Ukrainian specialists under the supervision of United States colleagues have regularly carried out collections of water samples from rivers flowing through Ukraine, with the aim of establishing specific dangerous pathogens, including cholera, typhoid, hepatitis A and E, and evaluating how they spread through the waters in order to determine their ability to incapacitate.”
Moscow also said it had accumulated a lot of materials showing that the United States and Ukraine had been violating the Biological Weapons Convention.
But this was denied by the United States and its allies rushed to its defense, accusing Russia of spreading “unverified, uncorroborated, unsubstantiated, non-factual claims for a non-existent biological program in Ukraine.”
They dismissed Russia’s allegations as disinformation and outright propaganda to justify the unnecessary war in Ukraine.
A top UN disarmament official has said it was unaware of a biological warfare program in Ukraine. But he also admitted that the organization did not have the mandate and technical capacity to carry out the investigation.
This has led to other countries to call on the United Nations to conduct an impartial and independent investigation into the potential threat and use of chemical and biological weapons, citing the cruelty associated with deadly pathogens that are not only confined to a national border.
Before the conflict in Ukraine, it was the United States who was accusing its rival, China, of releasing a deadly pathogen from a secret laboratory that caused the coronavirus disease (Covid-19), a pandemic that has killed over five million people worldwide.
Non-aligned countries called for an impartial and independent investigation into biological warfare activities in Ukraine, which they said should not be swept under the rug.
They also called on the UN’s disarmament organization to adopt more transparent verification protocols to safeguard against the development and use of biological weapons.
Under the incoming government of President-elect Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr., one of the items in his national security agenda is to strengthen the military’s capability and inter-agency cooperation in dealing with cyber security, weapons of mass destruction (WMD), Chemical, Biological, Radiological, Nuclear and high-yield Explosives (CBRNE), terrorism, and global health pandemic.
It’s high time for the government to also review its bilateral cooperation with other countries in terms of research and development in fighting diseases.
For instance, the US Department of Defense has provided nearly $650,000 in 2020 to set up a modern laboratory in central Luzon for animal disease diagnosis, boosting the country’s biosecurity efforts against transboundary diseases.
Over the years, the US has provided more than $25 million to put up laboratories, training and other activities to enhance surveillance and research on animal diseases.
But, there was little information that the laboratory in Tarlac has helped fight the African Swine Flu (ASF) that almost wiped out pig farms on the main island of Luzon, increasing the prices of pork due to shortage of supply.
What could be more disturbing is the fact that the Tarlac-based animal laboratory was funded by the United States Department of Defense’s Defense Threat Reduction Agency (US DoD-DRTA).
DRTA is an agency under the DoD that was tasked to combat weapons of mass destruction (WMD) and Chemical, Biological, Radiological, Nuclear, and high-yield Explosives (CBRNE).
This is disturbing and highly suspicious because the country’s agriculture agency, a civilian agency, has been working closely with the US DoD and DRTA, which could be working covertly to weaponize deadly pathogens.
The farm sector’s cooperation with the US DoD and DRTA lacks transparency.
The incoming government of President-elect Marcos must look into what kind of overt and covert activities were done at the animal disease laboratory in Tarlac to find out if the country gets any benefit from the cooperation, or if the Philippines was a guinea pig in the research for biological warfare.
The country faces potential danger if a deadly pathogen is accidentally released from the laboratory and infects residents in Tarlac or in the central Luzon area.
The Philippines can partner with civilian scientists to research animal diseases. The US Department of Agriculture has a number of programs for pest control and animal diseases.
Why would the agriculture department work closely with the defense sector instead of its counterpart agency?
On the surface, President Rodrigo Duterte was rabidly anti-American. He nearly succeeded in scrapping the 1998 Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) and reviewing the 1951 Mutual Defense Treaty (MDT).
In the end, he succumbed to pressure from his own secretaries of defense and foreign affairs and outside pressures. The US got more than it bargained for.
Biological warfare research cooperation with the agriculture department could just be the tip of the iceberg. There could be more defense and military programs tied to the 1951 security alliance.
It is up to Bongbong Marcos to unravel them.