I first came across the name Doc Willie Ong a couple of years ago when I saw my in-laws, both already in their 70s, watching a YouTube video about the benefits of drinking lemon and calamansi water. In said video, Doc Willie’s wife Doc Liza, held the said fruits while giving her own inputs here and there. I didn’t pay much attention. They were probably giving tips I already know.
Every now and then, my MIL would remind me to drink hot water instead of cold, an advice she heard from Doc Willie. “It’s good for your throat, and aids in your digestion,” she would tell me. I found the tips trivial and concluded it will have little to no effect on my well-being.
Then came 2020. At the start of the pandemic, I was going thru a gamut of health issues—which I attributed to stress, bad diet, and a sedentary lifestyle. There was acid reflux, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, UTI. I encountered a severe case of stiff neck, and was literally crawling, in great pain, out of bed. I also got anxious for a time when I lost my sense of smell after a bout of cough. I was going back and forth to the doctor and feeling depressed about my health.
That was when I started looking up online for tips that could help get my health back on track—which led me to Doc Willie Ong’s YouTube site. It was like hearing him for the first time. I found his tips practical, helpful, and easy to understand. Like most doctors, he sounded non-threatening, just calmly explaining what needed to be done. No wonder my mother-in-law, I thought to myself, is an avid fan. And so are many moms, lolas, kasambahays, it turns out.
The doctor is in
In this time of pandemic, when many would rather stay away from hospitals and clinics to avoid running the risk of contracting a deadly virus, Doc Willie Ong and his wife Liza became many a worried mother’s go-to source for health advice.
Doc Willie, a cardiologist and an internist, usually starts his videos wishing everyone a good day. “Maganda ang tips natin sa araw na ito,” he would say. “Kaibigan, meron akong maganda at mabisang lunas sa maraming sakit. Ginagamit ko ito home remedy, libre, walang babayaran. Talagang tuturuan ko lang kayo paano gagamitin.”
In gentle and concerned tones, the couple discuss every health issue one could possibly imagine—from common elderly health conditions like diabetes, high blood pressure, sakit sa puso, stroke and aneurysm. Then there are the concerns you would otherwise be shy to consult your doctor about—pigsa, kuliti, kulugo, kalyo, almoranas, maitim na kili-kili, bad breath.
Doc Willie also has episodes about Covid where he differentiates its symptoms from common illnesses like flu, or explains what to do when one experiences the coronavirus symptoms, or when one finds out that he or she is Covid positive. He has a knack for making complicated things easily understandable. He attacks each topic, each concern, in the most straightforward manner. No judgments, no nagging, no radio commentator affectation.
The husband-and-wife tandem—although mostly it’s Doc Liza—also dispenses tips on how couples can enhance their sex life, answering questions like “Bakit mahina na sa sex ang may edad?”, “Ano ang tamang oras ng pagtatalik—umaga ba o gabi?” and giving a list of “Pagkaing pampagana sa mag-asawa.”
Just how popular are Doc Willie and Doc Liza Ong? Their YouTube site has 5.41 million subscribers as of this writing. Doc Willie’s Facebook page alone has over 15 million followers. In a recent list that ranked the “Most Followed Celebrities on Facebook 2020,” he was number 5 in a group that had Marian Rivera on the top spot, and Senator Manny Pacquiao at number 10.
Doc Willie’s Facebook page is loaded with practical advice on how people, especially the elderly, can prevent or deal with a variety of diseases by simply consuming vegetables, fruits and herbal medicines. That lemon and calamansi water video I mentioned earlier, published two years ago, has already earned 5.7 million views over time. His video about foods that address chronic diseases like high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and diabetes has over 1million views, while the one about the benefits of hot water has over 870,000 views.
Why our moms love him
Our mothers and lolas, who are now more health-conscious than they used to be, probably consume more of Doc Willie’s content than the current crop of teleseryes. My mother-in-law Pressie Grana says she likes how the doctor explains the diseases and provides tips on how these can be avoided and cured—in a way that’s easy for an ordinary person to understand. Also, if I haven’t said it yet, all that medical advice is backed by more than 25 years of practice and comes free of charge. By the way, the doctor also has a master’s degree in public health.
“He is a good and a religious man. Siya ay mabait, at matulungin sa kapwa. Maraming mga mahihirap, mga walang pambayad sa doktor o kaya’y mga taong nasa ibang bansa, ang patuloy na sumusubaybay sa kanya dahil sa mga praktikal na solusyon. Ang kanyang mga payo backed up na rin ng siyensya dahil sya’y totoong doktor by profession,” my MIL adds.
Veronica Salongcay, 65, who has been an ardent follower of Doc Willie and Doc Liza for two years, says she likes the manner in which the doctors discuss an otherwise scary topic. “Gentle sila magsalita at magalang. Matiyaga niyang ipinapaliwanag, kasi hindi naman lahat nakakaintindi ng mga medical terms.” She also likes the videos about nurturing relationships among senior couples, and how they can maintain an exciting sex life even as they grow old.
Tess Fortaleza, 66, also likes Doc Willie’s detailed explanation on diseases—“Mula sa root cause ng sakit, hanggang sa symptoms, sa cure, and how it can be avoided,” she says. Like Salongcay, she also finds the valuable tips about relationships involving seniors very helpful.
Each of Doc Willie’s videos, especially on Facebook, is followed by words of thanks and appreciation from fans for the couple’s efforts to provide medical information at a time they are most needed. I spot no trolls on his comment threads. Some even urge the guy to run again for public office. Doc Willie, a former DOH consultant, ran for a senate seat in the 2019 elections, with a platform pushing for free maintenance medicine, laboratory tests, and medical check-ups under PhilHealth. He lost, only placing 18th on the final tally. He was prepared to lose, he said, although things might have been different had he been backed by more influential names.
We wanted to interview Doc Willie for this story but he declined. “Many work now,” he said in a text message. Which I can believe. I mean, he is also on Twitter, replying to medical concerns on the comments thread. On Instagram, posting uplifting messages, encouraging people to put their trust in God. He also writes a column for the Philippine Star.
Why did I ignore him in the beginning? Maybe I'm just programmed to become wary of people who use media to help out and do good. More often than not, there’s a self-serving agenda behind it. Will he be running again for public office? Will he be springing an endorsement deal to his audiences soon? Who knows? But right now, maybe I should just be glad there’s a real doctor my biyenans can listen to and be calmed by at a time when there’s so much anxiety and wrong information going around. Someone whose reminders they can take seriously and take comfort in.
By the way, my stiff neck is long gone, and my acid reflux has gotten better. And when I thought I lost my sense of smell—which triggered a slight panic—our house help just told me to massage my temples as well as my nape. What do you know, my sense of smell slowly started coming back! Was our help a doctor, too? Lol, no. She just follows one on YouTube.