Doctor branding and preparation help Willie Ong in CNN PH debate

MANILA, Philippines — “Play to your strengths” was perhaps the mantra of Isko Moreno’s running mate, Willie Ong, as he took the stage for CNN Philippines’ vice presidential debate.

The only white coat among the blazers, Ong immediately made it clear that he would play the doctor’s card thoroughly during the three-hour show.

The debate, the first for the vice-presidential candidates, was held on Saturday February 26 at the University of Santo Tomas.

Kaya po tayo tumakbo simple lang, pandemic po talaga», were his first words on stage, to underline the importance of his brand image.

(The reason I’m running is simple, because of the pandemic.)

Hindi po ako politiko pero doktor po ako. Nakikita ko papaano bilhin ‘yung magandang gamot sa inyo para mabuhay ang inyong mga anak,” he added.

(I am not a politician but a doctor. I know how to buy you good medicine so that your children can stay alive.)

For many questions, Ong had a medical or health perspective. Asked about bringing the Philippines back to the ICC, he said he agreed and then stepped aside to talk about how the war on drugs should take a public health approach instead of a criminal justice.

Instead of simply jailing drug addicts, Ong lobbied for free drugs to treat their addiction and more psychologists and psychiatrists to help them deal with mental health issues.

He thinks the government should help reduce the stigma faced by drug addicts, which prevents them from seeking help.

Sakit po siya. So 98% of users, 2% of pushers. Focus on natural science, eliminate stigma by people“, Ong said. (It’s a disease. So 98% are users, only 2% are pushers. We need a scientific approach, we need to reduce the stigma around users.)

Even when asked how to improve internet access for children, Ong devoted most of his answer to a panoply of statistics on the health issues plaguing children – stunting, malnutrition, diarrhoea, or even cyberbullying.

His only direct response to the internet question was: “With internet access, maybe not Mayor Isko diyan huh, with fiber optics and gagawin niya.(In terms of internet access, Mayor Isko and I have a plan for that, along with the fiber optic project he will implement.)

Ong was likely referring to Moreno’s promise to build a nationwide fiber optic network.

But his response during the debate indicated that he was unfamiliar with the technical terms of internet technology or, perhaps to compensate for this, he wanted to show off his knowledge of children’s health issues.

His demeanor during the debate was calm and pleasant. It helped that he was spared the verbal bickering between rivals Walden Bello, Senator Vicente Sotto III and Senator Kiko Pangilinan.

Constantly returns to Isko Moreno

Ong was consistent on one other thing: promoting his standard bearer.

In almost all of his answers, he returned to Isko Moreno, his governance in Manila and their platform in 10 points.

He touted Moreno’s program of providing tablets to public school students in Manila, 700,000 boxes of food as pandemic relief, how supposedly 97% of drug suspects in Manila are caught alive, and how Manila has was the first to buy many COVID-19 drugs.

Loyalty was touching, given the headlines generated by Moreno’s Mindanao releases last week. Ong had been asked to sit them while his standard bearer was paired with another vice-presidential bet, Sara Duterte.

Interestingly, despite this recent controversy, Ong was not asked by CNN Philippines moderators to weigh in on the unofficial tandems.

But Rappler editor Marites Vitug had another one to remember.

“I think Dr Ong’s proposal and his frequent reference to Mayor Isko, I think it’s also a function of not having experience in government in running a bureaucracy, unlike Senator Kiko [Pangilinan]Senator Sotto who can talk about their own agendas,” Vitug said during In the racea show evaluating the debate from CNN Philippines.


Ong kept its promise to study other issues than health.

When asked how to solve corruption in tax collection, he gave solid suggestions that had already been recommended by experts and officials – such as digitizing (in his own words, “computerization”) government transactions and the retirement of Bureau of Internal Revenue staff but the rehiring of “clean” ones.

His view on how to ban political dynasties was also pragmatic. He suggested not an outright ban, but a policy that would enforce a “gap” between one family member’s terms and another’s. Another compromise could be to impose a maximum on the number of family members who can hold elective office.

Ong simply embraced Moreno’s idea of ​​halving oil and electricity taxes when asked how he would respond to rising oil prices. He echoed his flag carrier’s offer to continue providing aid to the affected sectors and pursue joint oil exploration with China as long as it recognizes the Philippines’ rights to the Western Philippine Sea.

But Ong also distinguished himself by saying that the Philippines should add more renewable energy to its mix of energy sources so as not to rely too heavily on fossil fuel sources held by other countries.

The candidates were informed in advance of the topics that would be discussed during the debate, but not the exact questions that would be asked.

Ong prepared for the debate with Moreno’s campaign manager, Lito Banayo, on Monday, February 21. He had plenty of stats ready and obviously familiarized himself with the platform and statements of his standard bearer. –

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