2022 Philippine Elections

Willie Ong’s pandemic plan: Free testing, more funds for hospitals catering to poor

Pia Ranada
Willie Ong’s pandemic plan: Free testing, more funds for hospitals catering to poor

Doc Willie Ong gestures as he declare his run for Vice President in the 2022 national elections at the Basecommunity housing project in Tondo, Manila on September 22, 2021. Isko Moreno FB screenshot

Asked how he would fund his plans, the doctor who is a social media star tapped to be Isko Moreno's running mate, says government must make testing a budget priority

Vice presidential aspirant Willie Ong, running mate of Isko Moreno, said he would champion free COVID-19 testing, more funding for hospitals, and better pay for health frontliners as part of his 2022 platform.

Ilibre natin ang testing, RT-PCR. If we test a lot, bababa ang positivity rate meaning hindi ka makakuha ng COVID-19,” he said on Wednesday, September 29, during a Kapihan sa Manila Bay press conference.

(Let’s make RT-PCR testing free. If we test a lot, the positivity rate will go down, meaning you won’t get as many COVID-19 positives.)

Here’s what else Ong said, in a nutshell:

  • Free testing
  • Better pay for health workers
  • Additional P100 million fund for hospitals for poor patients
  • More hospitals, including field hospitals
  • More COVID-19 medicines like remdesivir and tocilizumab
  • Improved data to better reflect actual utilization of hospitals and other health facilities
  • Doctor to head IATF-EID
  • Simplified quarantine categories: only enhanced community quarantine, modified ECQ, general community quarantine
  • “More calm” pandemic response spokesperson

Asked how he would find the funding for free testing, Ong said it’s just a matter of making testing a government budget priority.

“We have a lot of budget for COVID-19. I would prioritize testing, health workers, hospitals,” he said.

But he also admitted that antigen testing could be a cheaper alternative. The government is already promoting the use of antigen testing and ordering health facilities to report antigen test results to the government. But reverse-transcription polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) tests remain the gold standard for this procedure..

Moreno has also mentioned aspects of his pandemic plan in an interview with Rappler.

Better pay for health workers, more hospitals

Ong, a doctor who dispenses health advice on social media and has thus created a large online following, says he would push for hospitals to be given more funds, on top of what they got from the annual government budget.

He pegged the amount at P100 million a year, for a hospital like East Avenue Medical Center, for example.

“It’s extra money that hospital directors can use for poor patients. The figure will change depending on the extra budget available,” said Ong in a message to Rappler.

The doctor-turned-politician said he would make sure health workers are paid properly, especially during the pandemic.

“First, you need to pay the healthworkers properly, give them a morale booster. If they are happier, they can work better so we can admit more COVID-19 patients,” said Ong.

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“We need to increase the number of beds, like field hospitals, new hospitals like infectious disease hospitals,” he added.

Presidential aspirant Isko Moreno has said he would put Ong in charge of pandemic response should both of them win in the 2022 elections. But Ong said he would not necessarily become Moreno’s health secretary. More likely, he would “oversee” pandemic response as a whole, with the health department a part of a larger system.

Ong said he would make sure the Inter-Agency Task Force on Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF-EID) would be led by a doctor.

“Second, for the IATF head, I’m sure General Galvez is a good person but I think a doctor can do better or a health worker so that it’s more decisive,” said Ong.

However, the IATF-EID is already led by a doctor, Health Secretary Francisco Duque III. The health secretary is the designated head of the task force based on the executive order creating the task force.

Carlito Galvez Jr. is the chief implementer of the National Action Plan vs. COVID-19 and the National Task Force vs. COVID-19, a separate entity created by Duterte for the pandemic. – Rappler.com

Pia Ranada

Pia Ranada is a senior reporter for Rappler covering Philippine politics and environmental issues. For tips and story suggestions, email her at pia.ranada@rappler.com.