My kind of senator-to-be

COMMONSENSE - Marichu A. Villanueva - The Philippine Star

Being a doctor of medicine who goes around treating people pro bono, or for free, Doctor Willie Ong is someone I would not have predicted to go into politics. So it was a complete surprise when he announced his candidacy through his popular Facebook page that now has 9.7 million followers to date. Called as “Doc Willie Ong,” he is also the resident medical expert and volunteer doctor at ABS-CBN’s “Salamat Dok” TV show.

An internist and cardiologist by sub-specialty with a masters degree in public health, Doc Willie is a familiar face at The Star. This is because he regularly visits us at the editorial office to do random medical check-up on employees, with special interest on us with hypertension condition. But his regular visits in our office suddenly stopped last year when he decided to plunge into a new career path. This was after he filed his certificate of candidacy in October last year.

So it was switching of roles when we had Doc Willie this time seated across the table under our close scrutiny and barrage of questions. It was our turn – his patients – to grill Doc Willie on how it feels to be at other end of being asked penetrating questions on what ails of the society he could help cure as a lawmaker-doctor if he wins the Senate race.

It was like a family gathering when Doc Willie, accompanied by his wife and ever helpful assistant Doc Liza, visited us at The STAR editorial office last Wednesday night, this time, as a senatorial candidate. During a roundtable conversation with reporters and editors, Doc Willie recalled with fondness how he got into medical missions with “Operation: Damayan,” The Star corporate social responsibility arm. He first started as a columnist of The Star Lifestyle section’s “Mind your body” about health and medicine issues as well as writing a regular column for our tabloid Pilipino Star Ngayon.

The 55-year-old Doc Willie is a classmate at Xavier High School of Star president and chief executive officer Miguel Belmonte. While another Xavier classmate, former Tarlac Congressman and erstwhile Defense Secretary Gilberto Teodoro decided an early retirement from politics, Doc Willie decided to finally enter politics after more than 25 years of medical missions across the country, promoting a healthy lifestyle, and giving free medical advice that made him popular household name.

Doc Willie is running as one of the senatorial candidates of the Lakas-Christian Muslim Democrats (Lakas-CMD) party headed by Leyte Rep. Martin Romualdez as its national president. Aside from Doc Willie, the Lakas-CMD senatorial ticket included lawyer Larry Gadon and comebacking ex-Sen. Ramon “Bong” Revilla Jr. who is the Lakas-CMD national party chairman.

Although he does not believe in the ways of traditional politics, Doc Willie explained he must enlist with a political party that is recognized by the Commission on Elections (Comelec). Otherwise, he pointed out, he might be disqualified as a “nuisance” candidate if he cannot mount a national campaign that an established political party machinery like Lakas-CMD will be able to provide his senatorial bid.

Moreover, Doc Willie cited, his inspiration to join the Lakas-CMD was the late, Dr. Juan Flavier who served for two consecutive terms at the Senate. Popularly known as the barrio doctor for his regular columns also at The Star, Flavier first served in 1992 as Secretary of the Department of Health (DOH) during the administration of former president Fidel Ramos. The late Senator Flavier became the resident expert legislator on medicine related measures and public health matters that were passed and approved into law during his 12 years in Congress.

Inspired by Flavier as his role model, Doc Willie signed up to join the public health services.

Doc Willie first worked with former DOH Secretary Enrique Ona under whose office he was consultant from 2010 to 2014. It was during his exposure on public health services at the DOH that his eyes were opened on more and more weaknesses, deficiencies, problems and other flaws of the bureaucracy that debilitate the delivery of such basic medical needs of people, especially the poor and disadvantaged patients.

Armed with this working knowledge of the public health system in the Philippines, Doc Willie vows to cure these malaises through remedial legislations that he could initiate and help shepherd into law in the next Congress. On top of his list is the aim to immediately constitute and activate the oversight committee on the implementation of the newly enacted Universal Health Care.  

President Rodrigo Duterte signed it into law last Feb. 20. It mandates the automatic enrollment of all Filipinos into the National Healthcare Insurance Corporation (PhilHealth), as either direct or indirect contributors.  It has a funding requirement of P257 billion. But it got only an appropriation of P217 billion under the proposed 2019 national budget that both chambers of Congress have yet to submit to Malacañang for signing into law by President Duterte.

Health Secretary Francisco Duque III earlier said the funding gap of P40 billion would mean not all hospitals or health centers as envisioned under the law would be constructed. Doc Willie shared the lament of Duque, citing that the DOH has only a P109-billion budget this year while PhilHealth has P111 billion. Funding support, as usual would be sourced from the Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corp. and the Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office at P15 billion each and the share from revenue collections out of the so-called “sin” taxes on tobacco and alcoholic products.

Given scarce resources of the government, Doc Willie is advocating a “co-pay” system in which patients will partly shoulder costs of medical bills in accordance with income bracket. In this way, he cited, the quality, accessibility and affordability of medical services would not be compromised.

Hopefully, Doc Willie could make it to the “magic 12” winning circle to be my kind of Senator-to-be whose sincerity to  health care and medical welfare needs of the people are matched by his actual deeds.

  • Latest
  • Trending
Are you sure you want to log out?

Philstar.com is one of the most vibrant, opinionated, discerning communities of readers on cyberspace. With your meaningful insights, help shape the stories that can shape the country. Sign up now!

or sign in with