Witness to history: Shell's nation-building efforts during World War 2
May 20, 2014
The opportunity for business and enterprise to step up to the challenge of nation-building becomes apparent in times of crisis, such as during a war.
In December 1941, when the Philippines faced the Japanese invasion during the Second World War, one company played a vital role in powering the lives of Filipinos, literally and figuratively.
Shell, as a trusted power, energy and gas technology brand that it is today, counts that dark period as an important milestone in its 100-year history in the Philippines. In the few years before WWII broke out, there were around 56,000 registered motor vehicles in the Philippines. Shell, then operating under the consortium Asiatic Petroleum Corporation, had grown from its original workforce of six personnel in 1914 to about 72 expatriates and 180 Filipinos.
As war broke out, the company’s oil products and tankers were immediately utilised by the defense forces. At that time, the Pandacan oil depot was already in operation, and Shell had an efficient production and distribution system in place. When enemy capture of the Pandacan installation became imminent, the United States Army set the depot ablaze to prevent the opponents from exploiting its fuel supplies.
The war unraveled for four years in the country and brought immense devastation to towns and cities. When it was finally over, ruin was everywhere, oil supply was in deep shortage, and piers and depots were destroyed. This situation prompted the creation of the Petroleum Distribution Association of the Philippines in 1945, a non-profit organisation of oil companies in the country which included Shell. It was organized to distribute petroleum products supplied by the US Army to government agencies, industries, and civilians at prices set by a local ration board.
After liberation, Shell resumed operations at a temporary office on Juan Luna Street in Manila. Notwithstanding dwindled resources, the organisation began reconstruction in 1946 and within the year, Shell’s facilities in Pandacan, Poro, and Shell Island in Cebu were again operational. In 1947, post-war efforts were further boosted by remittance from Shell Centre in London which had received war damage funds. Just four years after the Second World War, Shell facilities across the archipelago had been fully restored.
While American firms in the Philippines were allowed the same rights as Filipinos in the disposition, exploitation, development, and use of natural resources, including the operation of public utilities, non-American firms like Shell operated within restrictive provisions as legislated in the 1935 Philippine Constitution. However, unlike many foreign investors that packed up and left the country, Shell stayed on and demonstrated interest in the country’s development.
Between 1945 and 1950, Shell poured into the country over Php23 million in investments, and employed more than 1,800 workers. By 1954, Shell was paying duties and taxes equivalent to almost 6 percent of the national budget at that time.
As Shell looks back on its history in the Philippines, closely tied to that of the country’s and its people, it takes pride in the various opportunities it took to turn adversity into success—to express faith in the capabilities and potentials of the Filipino people, and to help rebuild not only individual lives and communities, but the entire nation and its economy as well.
Today, Shell in the Philippines continues to do its part in nation-building primarily through achieving a diversified energy portfolio to meet the country’s future energy needs—delivering cleaner-burning natural gas and smarter products for clean and fuel-efficient transport; espousing advocacies such as sustainable mobility, road safety, and many other social investment projects geared toward health, the youth, and the environment.
As it embarks on its journey to its next one hundred years, Filipinos can be assured of Shell’s commitment to be a steadfast partner in the ever-changing needs of society, and achieving greater successes just as it had been present during the lowest depths and hardest challenges of business.