Philippines seeking U.S. clarification on anti-vax propaganda operation

June 25, 2024 - 7:18 PM
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Test tubes are seen in front of a displayed Sinovac logo in this illustration taken, May 21, 2021. (Reuters/Dado Ruvic/Illustration/File Photo)

 The Philippines is still seeking clarification from the Pentagon about a secret U.S. propaganda operation that aimed to cast doubt among Filipinos about Chinese vaccines at the height of the COVID pandemic, a foreign ministry official said on Tuesday.

A Reuters investigation on June 14 detailed how the Pentagon ran a clandestine influence campaign in 2020 and 2021 to denigrate the Sinovac vaccine and other pandemic aid from China across the developing world.

READ: Pentagon ran secret anti-vax campaign to undermine China during pandemic | Lawmakers push for probe into Pentagon’s anti-vax propaganda operation

The effort was intended to counter what Washington then saw as China’s growing geopolitical sway around the globe, including in Southeast Asia. It began under former President Donald Trump and ended months after President Joseph Biden took office.

“We have not received an official and formal response yet on any confirmation, denial or anything. We are waiting on that. We continue to monitor and ask for information,” Foreign Affairs Assistant Secretary Jose Victor Chan-Gonzaga told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, which is investigating the U.S. information campaign.

As soon as the Reuters article came out, Chan-Gonzaga said the foreign ministry had contacted the U.S. embassy in Manila through “our regular consultations mechanism” but had been referred to the U.S. Defense Department.

Contacted for further comment on Tuesday, the U.S. embassy also referred Reuters to the U.S. Defense Department.

A senior Defense Department official cited by Reuters in the June 14 report acknowledged that the U.S. military had engaged in secret propaganda to disparage China’s vaccine in the developing world, but declined to provide details.

Senator Imee Marcos, who chairs the Foreign Relations Committee, described the U.S. military campaign as “evil, wicked, dangerous, unethical.”

Marcos, who is the sister of Philippines President Ferdinand Marcos Jr, said the number of Filipinos who had fallen ill and died from COVID was “shocking”.

Nearly 67,000 Filipinos have died of COVID to date, while the number of infections has reached more than 4.1 million, World Health Organization data showed, making the Philippines among the hardest hit by the pandemic in Southeast Asia.

Health Undersecretary Rosario Vergeire told the Senate committee hearing on Tuesday that health officials had been alarmed by the spread of disinformation about vaccines but had thought it was “random” and not organised.

—Reporting by Neil Jerome Morales; Editing by Gareth Jones