Dr. WIllie Ong and his wife Dr. Liza Ramoso-Ong.
Willie Ong: The doctor is ‘in’
Helen M. Flores (The Philippine Star) - July 21, 2019 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines — His senatorial run was viewed with skepticism, even some degree of derision, a quixotic (mis)adventure jousting with the windmills of political goons, guns and gold. But internist-cardiologist Willie Ong has no regrets about running, and doing it his way – declining millions of pesos in donations and running his campaign in an unconventional way.

He finished in 18th place with nearly eight million votes anyway, outperforming a number of prominent candidates, including veteran politicians. A political analyst called him the “phenomenon of the 2019 midterm elections.”

Supporters gather in fron tof the Manila Cathedral in Intramuros after the doctor files his certificate of candidacy at the nearby Commission on Elections office last October

Ong had only one thing in mind when he ran for senator – to help millions of poor Filipino patients get dialysis and heart surgery. The May 13 senatorial elections showed him both the good and the bad – the strong clamor for a new public servant who will truly address the poor Filipinos’ need for accessible and affordable healthcare, and the “dirty” game of politics in the country.

He did not spend billions for political advertisements. He did not hold motorcades, mobilize mass rallies or attack other candidates to boost his candidacy. He merely capitalized on what he already had before going into the campaign – more than 10.4 million social media followers.

His hundreds of videos and photos of easy-to-digest health tips and free medical advice on Facebook and YouTube made Ong a popular household name. “I won’t play their (politicians’) game…I took the other road,” the 55-year-old Ong tells STARweek in an interview in his residence in Makati City. Ong says he wants “to see how far a clean person can go in this country.” “I would rather lose than ask money from friends and businessmen,” he says.

“We know that politics here is dirty, but you won’t feel it unless you run,” he adds. Ong was the first in his family of businessmen-philanthropists to try politics.

Bashers

Due to limited campaign funds, Ong and his doctor-wife Liza just made a few out of town sorties during the three-month campaign period. They used one car and hired two part-time secretaries to handle his social media accounts. Despite being an internet sensation, Ong also has his share of bashers, especially during the campaign. “I had so many bashers even if I was not doing anything wrong,” he says. The intensity of the attacks varied depending on the election time, he adds.

Ong comes to the rescue of an injured motorbike passenger along EDSA (below right).

“During the last month (of the campaign) it got worse, and during the last week, it became more intense, but after the elections it subsided,” Ong shares. “That seems to be the cycle. Why would they bash you, because you don’t have money?” he says. “I didn’t ride on any publicity, I don’t care even if I don’t have publicity.”  The social media doctor Ong says he will continue to offer free medical services to Filipinos, an advocacy he has been doing for the past 25 years, along with Doctor Liza. Taking into account that many Filipinos online believe in his health advice, Ong says he is very careful with what he posts on social media.

“I’m very careful, because if I say jump, they (social media followers) will jump,” Ong says in jest. From 8.6 million Facebook followers when he filed his certificate of candidacy in October 2018, Ong’s followers continue to grow and currently they number more than 10.4 million.

Some compared Ong to the late senator Juan Flavier, who is also a doctor and became popular for promoting public health care. Unknown to many, Ong has not been charging his patients – even the rich ones – for the last 15 years.“We’re (financially) OK already. My mother is kind, and so is my sibling. They let us live in her house,” says Ong, a graduate of De La Salle Medical and Health Sciences in Cavite. Ong and Liza have two daughters, both in college now.

Doctors Willie and Liza Ong have made it their mission to provide free healthcare to Filipinos.

He also stopped collecting royalties for his books, some of which are best sellers. Ong has written and published numerous books on medicine. His first book, The Medicine Blue Book, is considered the “bible” of medical students and young doctors. Another book of Ong is the Cardiology Blue Book, a simplified handbook for doctors on the diagnosis and treatment of heart conditions.

Ong’s affordable and highly informative medical books have helped in the molding and training of thousands of young doctors. He also served as consultant for the Department of Health from 2010 to 2014.

Ong is a volunteer doctor for ABS-CBN’s medical program, Salamat Dok. He also writes a column for The STAR’s sister publications, Pilipino STAR Ngayon and PM PangMasa. 

Missionary work 

The well-known cardiologist believes more opportunities have opened for him and Liza to continue their “missionary work” after the elections. 

Because of his satisfactory performance, many have expressed their support for him, including businessmen and senators-elect. 

“Many are expressing their support for me now, they told me they would release money (for my campaign),” he says. Ong says a senator-elect has approached him and asked for his help in crafting bills. “I’m willing to help anybody whether you’re from the administration or opposition,” he says.

Ong says he will partner with private organizations to raise funds not for another political bid but for his poor patients. The doctor says he does not see his victory in the country’s current political system, where moneyed candidates always get the advantage. “I don’t see the pathway to win in this set up, I don’t know if I can win with my ‘no campaign donations, no bashing, no mudslinging policy’.”

“If I can do something big in a private capacity, I will no longer run,” he says, adding, “My patients can not wait for three more years…I’ll find ways to help outside politics.”

LIZA RAMOSO-ONG WILLIE ONG
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