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A widow’s tale of illuminating a barrio

Almost a century ago—when storage tanks of gasoline stations were not yet built underground and looked more like ice cream carts rather than behemoth cylindrical structures of today—a 19-year-old widow emerged as one of the pioneers in the petroleum industry for helping supply power to the darkest barrios in Silang.
Rosa Naval and her second husband, Pedro Vergel de Dios, surrounded by their children in the early 1950s

Rosa Naval and her second husband, Pedro Vergel de Dios, surrounded by their children in the early 1950s

When the Shell company established its offices in the Philippines in January 1914, Rosa Naval became one of the first owners of a Shell gasoline station, which was located in her hometown in Cavite. The residents welcomed its presence in their area and flocked to the station to buy kerosene for lighting and cooking. With the absence of electricity in the barrios back then, the young widowed mother easily met an opportunity to serve the market.

Each tanker in the station contained 20 liters of gasoline. Naval’s customers came for their fill of kerosene, carrying large containers, as well as small soft-drink bottles that cost them 10 centavos. As a hands-on manager, she went to the Shell office every other day to remit sales, and was a frequent visitor in the Pandacan installation to make sure that supply was delivered on time. Her happy disposition and diligence gained her a lot of friends in Shell, and soon enough, Silang became a hospitable stopover for the sales representatives of the company.

The hard work of the first owners of the gas stations helped Shell achieve expansive growth in succeeding years. Naval managed her gas station for three decades, until her death in 1954. After her passing, the ownership of the station was left to her second husband and her four children. By 1957, considered a banner year for Shell in the Philippines, the company added 35 more gasoline stations, increasing its market share to 20 percent. Eventually, Shell’s operations transitioned to a Filipinized management.

As of last count, there are now 940 Shell stations in the entire archipelago. From being a petroleum and fuel company, Shell is now a global leader in power, energy, and gas technology—continuing to meet increasing energy challenges by delivering smarter products and cleaner energy through smarter infrastructure and by promoting smarter use which help in minimizing environmental impact. 

Shell has also grown as an important contributor to nation-building, steadfast in its social development programs that focus on numerous advocacies centered on youth development, road safety, fuel efficient driving, sustainable mobility, and many more.

A Shell station in the 1960s

A Shell station in the 1960s

Given Shell’s history of social involvement that has benefited local communities, Naval and other retail station dealers like her have always been encouraged to be patriotic entrepreneurs, with a crucial role in nation-building. During natural calamities when relief goods need to be dispatched immediately, gasoline stations serve as drop-off centers for donations. The retail station owners are also important allies in Shell’s continuing scholarship and capacity-building projects such as Gas Mo, Bukas Ko and Unlad sa Pasada.

The family of Rosa Naval still owns the outlet in Silang, Cavite. On February 10, 1990, it won a Shell achievement award as the oldest Shell station that still belongs to its original owner.

Such tales are positive proof of the enduring and inextricable link of Shell in the lives of Filipinos for the past 100 years—pioneering progress and continuing to illuminate the road to the future, just as Rosa Naval’s humble gasoline station once did in a barrio in Silang 100 years ago.

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