Philippines-US relations

Probe into Pentagon’s alleged anti-vax campaign sought

Kaycee Valmonte

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Probe into Pentagon’s alleged anti-vax campaign sought

MORE DOSES. A shipment of 400,000 doses of Sinovac's COVID-19 vaccine arrives at the Ninoy Aquino In.ternational Airport on March 24, 2021.

Jae Maryanoll/Rappler

'It is imperative that we ascertain the extent of the damage caused by this secret campaign and hold those responsible accountable,' says ACT Teachers Representative France Castro

MANILA, Philippines – Days after a Reuters investigative report revealed that the US military launched a “secret campaign” against Chinese-produced vaccines during the height of the pandemic, there are now calls for authorities to look into the alleged operation.

Probe into Pentagon’s alleged anti-vax campaign sought

On June 14, Reuters reported that Pentagon conducted a misinformation campaign to raise doubts over vaccines and other medical aid supplied by China. This was primarily done online – with phony internet accounts impersonating Filipinos – and it went beyond Philippine social media feeds, with similar propaganda tailored for audiences in Central Asia and the Middle East.

On Sunday, June 16, ACT Teachers Representative France Castro urged the House of Representatives to conduct an investigation into the report.

“It is imperative that we ascertain the extent of the damage caused by this secret campaign and hold those responsible accountable,” Castro said.

“The Philippines was one of the areas targeted by this operation, and therefore, it is our duty to safeguard our nation’s sovereignty and protect our people’s health,” she added.

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The vaccine manufactured by China’s Sinovac Biotech Ltd was the first vaccine made available to Filipinos. The first batch of doses arrived in the country in February 2021. The arrival of other vaccine brands were delayed by paperwork and the lack of global supply.

At the time, the Philippines was among the last countries in Southeast Asia that had yet to make COVID-19 vaccine doses available to its citizens.

Sinovac

Sinovac was the third pharmaceutical company to be granted an emergency approval in the Philippines, following Pfizer and AstraZeneca’s vaccine. Many at that time questioned the government’s decision to green light the brand as some viewed it as the Duterte administration giving the China-made vaccine preferential treatment.

Beijing was Manila’s close ally then, following former president Rodrigo Duterte’s foreign policy pivot. The Reuters investigation noted that China’s growing global influence was Washington’s motivation, and saw the COVID-19 pandemic as an opportunity to strike.

“We weren’t looking at this from a public health perspective,” a senior military officer involved in the program told Reuters. “We were looking at how we could drag China through the mud.”

A public survey conducted from February 22 to March 3 in 2021 showed that vaccine hesitancy was prominent among Filipinos. Concerns regarding the COVID-19 vaccine’s safety, effectiveness, and even necessity were among respondents’ reasons for reconsidering getting vaccinated.

Those who were willing to get inoculated, however, preferred Pfizer (52%). Only 22% of the survey respondents chose Sinovac as their first choice.

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Vaccine hesitancy went beyond the pandemic though as some agencies noted that this affected even confidence in routine vaccinations.

Summon the envoy

Bayan Muna executive vice president Carlos Zarate said the US campaign has now backfired. “Pentagon tried to paint a goon out of China during the COVID-19 pandemic, but as the Reuters investigation now revealed, it’s the US that is the real global goon – one with no regard to the lives of those ravaged by the pandemic.”

Pilipinong Nagkakaisa para sa Soberanya (P1NAS) spokesman Antonio Tinio also criticized Washington’s “hypocrisy,” citing how the US usually condemns propaganda churned by Russia and China.

“This shines a light on how the US is actively using psyops, disinformation, and other influence operations to shape public opinion in our country,” Tinio, former ACT Teachers representative, said in a statement on June 15.

“We demand that Malacañang summon the US ambassador to explain this outrageous conduct and hold the US accountable for endangering Filipino lives with its disinformation campaign,” he added, while also calling on both chambers of Congress to investigate the extent of US disinformation campaigns in the country. – with reports from Reuters/Rappler.com

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Kaycee Valmonte

Kaycee Valmonte is a multimedia reporter who covers politics in the House of Representatives and public health.