By Joyce Ann L. Rocamora

(PNA file photo)

MANILA – The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) is waiting for the United States to confirm or deny the alleged report that the Pentagon carried out an anti-vaccine campaign targeting Filipino nationals at the height of the coronavirus pandemic.

In a Senate hearing on Tuesday, DFA Assistant Secretary Jose Victor Chan-Gonzaga said the agency had immediately reached out to the US Embassy and authorities right after hearing the report by Reuters, which first broke the story on June 14.

The official said the DFA was initially referred to the Department of Defense (DoD) and received the same statement publicly issued by Pentagon spokesperson Lisa Lawrence, who did not confirm nor deny the report.

As of this posting, Chan-Gonzaga said the DFA have “not received any official and formal response yet in terms of any confirmation, denial, or anything.”

“So, we are waiting on that. We continue to monitor and ask for information,” he said.

The investigative report released by Reuters alleged that the US military launched a clandestine program amid the coronavirus disease pandemic “to discredit China’s Sinovac inoculation– payback for Beijing’s efforts to blame Washington for the pandemic” and that the target was the Filipino public.

Lawrence’s statement, which was discussed during the hearing, read as follows:

“The DoD uses a variety of platforms, including social media, to counter those malign influence attacks aimed at the US, allies, and partners. As it relates to Covid-19 disinformation, China [in 2020] initiated a disinformation campaign to falsely blame the United States for the spread of Covid-19. In line with the US National Defense Strategy, the DoD continues to build integrated deterrence against critical challenges to US national security, including deterring the PRC’s spread of disinformation under the scrutiny of the Department’s coordination and deconfliction process.”

Pressed how the country interprets this statement, Foreign Affairs Secretary Enrique Manalo only said he thinks this is a “declaration of US policy” that it will take deterrence to malign influence against them.

“I can only repeat what (Defense) Secretary Gibo Teodoro said, I think it’s neither a denial nor an assertion,” Manalo said.

In the same Senate hearing, Teodoro said he believes that if it is neither a confirmation nor a denial “then the burden of proof is on the asserter to prove something.”

“That is to say that the US DoD will neither confirm nor deny, somebody has evidence, come out and prove it. I think that is the import of the statement,” he said. (PNA)