2022 Philippine Elections

Serious candidate? Willie Ong says ‘saling pusa lang ako’

Pia Ranada
Serious candidate? Willie Ong says ‘saling pusa lang ako’

READY TO CAMPAIGN? Vice-presidential aspirant Willie Ong gives a speech at the campaign launch of his tandem with Manila Mayor Isko Moreno on September 22, 2021.

Alecs Ongcal/Rappler

But the doctor-turned-politician also says the vice presidency is an opportunity for him to save lives

Willie Ong’s vice presidential candidacy came out of left field, and no one agrees more than Willie Ong himself.

In Isko Moreno’s presidential campaign launch, the doctor and social media personality admitted even he sees himself more as a “saling pusa,” a Filipino phrase that refers to someone, usually a young child, temporarily included in a game played by older kids or grown-ups.

Sabi ko, baka pwedeng saling pusa na lang ako, saling pusa sa ads niya, bigyan niya lang ako ng three seconds, sali ako sa poster, doon na lang sa likod at bahala na ang Diyos,” said Ong on Wednesday, September 22, during a press conference after the launch in Manila.

Okay lang sa akin matalo eh, basta manalo siya. ‘Pag nanalo siya, okay na ako (I’m okay if I lose, as long as he wins. If he wins, I’m okay),” he continued.

The vice presidential race is not a game. Whoever wins the vice presidency could end up becoming Philippine president if the chief executive dies, resigns, or is impeached.

Ong also insisted that he would not criticize political opponents during the campaign season, a tall order given how dirty propaganda can get on the campaign trail.

Hindi ako babanat, wala akong babatikusin. Tutulong lang tayo, liligtas lang tayo ng buhay (I will not criticize. I will just help, I will just save lives.),” said Ong.

Friendly with Duterte allies?

The doctor-turned-politician was asked about photos circulating on social media of him posing with online personalities supportive of President Rodrigo Duterte, including controversial government appointee and blogger Mocha Uson.

Ong said he has “many friends” in the administration, opposition, and “neutral” groups.

Siguro lang medyo linalagay nila picture ko sa admin, may ginagawa na medyo fake news. Mayroon din sa opposition, mayroon sa gitna. Wala akong kulay. Ang pinaka kulay lang natin ngayon is Isko Moreno color,” said Ong.

(Maybe they put my picture with people in the administration, making some fake news. There is also with the opposition, with those in the middle. I have no color. My only color now is Isko Moreno color.)

Focus on ‘saving lives’

Ong’s campaign launch speech, delivered impromptu, was nevertheless personal as he linked his decision to be Moreno’s running mate with the recent loss of his mother and the suffering of fellow health workers toiling during the pandemic.

He said he was at first offered a slot in Moreno’s senatorial slate, an offer Ong refused. Weeks went by and he was offered another role – as running mate.

At around that time, he was attending to his mother who had deteriorated in health after getting a stroke in June. His mother passed away a week ago. It was right after he buried her that he decided to say yes to Moreno.

Bakit ako pumayag? Nakita ko yung mga doctor nag-iiyakan. Nagmamakaawa mga nurse, never ko nakitang umiyak ‘yan,” said Ong.

(Why did I agree? I saw the doctors crying. The nurses were begging, I’ve never seen them cry.)

Ito na opportunity, sino ba ako para tumanggi? Ang isang malaking bagay nagkasakit nanay ko… Hindi ko naligtas nanay ko, pero maliligtas ko sila,” said the vice-presidential aspirant.

(Here is an opportunity, who am I to refuse? One big factor was my mother getting sick… I couldn’t save my mother, but I can save them.)

As vice presidential candidate, Ong said he would push for a rebooted pandemic response, with special focus on ensuring adequate supply of COVID-19 medicines like remdesivir and Tocilizumab, equipment like high-flow nasal cannula, and facilities.

He said he would push for “free testing.”

“Why is testing so important? If he knows he is positive he will not infect others, he will not go to work, he won’t be in denial that this is just a cough, this is nothing,” said Ong in Filipino.

Moreno said in a Rappler interview that he would put Ong in charge of pandemic response if they both won in the 2022 elections. – Rappler.com

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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.