OPERATION SMILE: Baby Myla is one of the newborn in Palawan  afflicted with cleft and lip palate deformities who had been helped by Operation Smile Philippines in partnership with the provincial government of Palawan, Rio Tuba Nickel Mining Corporation and Coral Bay Nickel Corporation. (Photo courtesy of OSP)

PUERTO PRINCESA CITY, Palawan -- Two large mining companies in Palawan will partner with “Operation Smile Philippines” (OSP) to provide a six-day free corrective surgery mission to 100 indigent residents with cleft lip and palate deformities in July.

Roberto Manzano, country director of development of the OSP, said it will be held at the Aborlan District Hospital in southern Palawan on July 1-6 as a collaborative effort with Rio Tuba Nickel Mining Corporation (RTNMC) and Coral Bay Nickel Corporation (CBNC) operating in Bataraza town towards rendering new smile and hope to cleft lip and palate patients.

He said the OSP will be mobilizing a 36-man all-volunteer multi-specialty team composed of plastic surgeons, anesthesiologists, pediatricians, dentists, and other personnel to treat children and young adults with cleft lip and palate problems.

“The goal is to reduce or eliminate the backlog of cleft lip and palate cases in Palawan. We will focus more on younger cases because if it’s children, there are fewer problems in patients. One realization that we had in our partnership with RTNMC and CBNC is that it’s anchored on a common vision of transformative change. Our mission is that we mobilize generous hearts to heal children with cleft lips and transform their lives,” he said Monday at a media conference in Puerto Princesa City.

The Operation Smile mission will be the third partnership of OSP with RTNMC and CBNC. In 2016, 112 indigent Palaweños with the same deformities also received free reconstructive surgeries in Taytay and Brooke’s Point municipalities.

Former Palawan board member Ernesto Llacuna, now the community relations manager of CBNC, said helping cleft lip and palate patients in Palawan is a project that is “very important” under their corporate social responsibility (CSR) targets.

“We have seen its good results, and we believe it is a worthy program endeavor to continue, and the CBNC management is willing to support it,” he said.

RTNMC community relations manager Reynaldo dela Rosa, on the other hand, said since the 1980s, one of their mining company’s top priorities has been taking care of the health of not only the immediate communities in Bataraza where they operate but also in other parts of Palawan.

“Our partnerships in health had been diverse; we’re also in malaria and dengue eradication because one of RTNMC’s top priorities is healthcare. This is why in 2016, we supported this to extend the benefits to other municipalities – there is an opportunity here for Palaweños who are far from Bataraza. We are thankful to the OSP for this,” he said.

He said the mission allows them, too, to extend their other outreach programs in day-care centers for free school supplies, as well as their tree planting project.

Dr. Mary Ann Navarro, chief of the Palawan Provincial Health Office (PHO), said the project is important in helping find children and young adults with cleft lip and palate problems to provide them corrective surgeries.

“If you will look at statistics, there are so many who are already adults that we just accessed and given free surgeries because there are no means since no one comes here. If there were surgical missions before, they were mixed and not purely for cleft lip and palate,” she said.

One difficulty in Palawan that makes it hard to reach those with the deformities are the distances of their homes since they do not have the means to pay for travel expenses and food.

“With OSP, our target is how to mobilize our 1,000 community health workers to find these patients, especially if their newborn, so we can provide the remedy,” she said.

An oral cleft is a deformity that severely disfigures the afflicted and impairs his/her speech. An estimated 5,000 Filipinos are born with the deformity every year, said Manzano.

Since 1982, the OSP has treated an estimated 31,904 Filipinos with an oral cleft, where most cases were born to poor families that cannot afford the cost of commercial surgery, he said.

“Left untreated, they will be bullied, lose their self-esteem and grow uneducated with hardly any chance of finding gainful employment later in adulthood. The free surgery will change their lives dramatically,” Manzano said.

The cleft surgery mission will be done in the Aborlan District Hospital also in partnership with the provincial government of Palawan. (PNA)