In Memoriam: Oscar C. de Venecia: Pioneer in oil exploration, businessman, civic leader, diplomat

Published October 31, 2021, 12:12 AM

by Former Speaker Of The House Jose De Venecia Jr


Jose de Venecia Jr.
Former Speaker of the House

Our brother Oscar was 13 and we were 9 years old when we lost our dearest, loving 45-year-old mother Casimira to tuberculosis in September 1945, which left us with vast emptiness for a long time.

Growing up in our hometown Dagupan, Oscar and we became closest among eight siblings, perhaps because he was older than us by only four years and we shared common interests and sense of adventures. 

As young boys, Oscar and we would swim in the historic Lingayen Gulf,where General MacArthur landed on January 9, 1945 and, earlier, Japanese General Masaharu Homma on December 22, 1941, during World War II. 

We would also catch small crabs in the seashore then sold some of them to earn some money. We went fishing in our familyfishfarm in Dagupanand climbed trees in our family farm in Santa Barbara town, 15kilometers west of Dagupan and where our family escaped from the invading Japanese forces during World War II. 

Years later, Oscar and we became pioneering business partners in port operations and electrification in Saudi Arabia; oil exploration in the United Arab Emirates; mass housing and infrastructure in Iraq, Kuwait, Jordan, and Libya. 

We were also the first to strike oil in Palawan in the 1970s. The oil well produced 42,000 barrels of crude a day, then about 17 percent of the country’s oil requirements, and recorded annual foreign-exchange savings estimated at $200 million annually. 

Oscar and we also had our brief delirious experience of a legitimate oil strike on hilly land in southern Cebu, where we were indeed splattered with crude oil. But as with the earlier oil discoveries in Cebu, quickly petered out with forgettable production of about a dozen barrels a day, which was meaningless since at the time the price of crude was at about $1.50 a barrel and the exchange rate then was at P2 to US$1. 

Nonetheless our pioneering learning experience in Cebu led us to more adventurous foreign forays much later as we put together a modest international consortium and drilled a Filipino-first and Filipino-led Arab-Asian oil well in Ajman, the small Emirate in the United Arab Emirates (UAE).

We do not remember now at what depth the oil was struck but we did hit good quality oil in commercial quantities in Ajman, nearby its richer sister Emirates, Abu Dhabi, Dubai and Sharjah. But the glory was short-lived. With the price of oil hovering at its highest price then at $38-$39 per barrel, the price steadily and rapidly plunged downwards to what we remember at $8 per barrel. 

Oscar and we, in a real sense, made history when in the 1970s we won in competitive international bidding, the operation of the Port of Jeddah on the Red Sea and deployed a more than 3,000-man stevedoring force there led by our Filipino, British, and Singaporean executives and middle managers, and immediately thereafter, also opened and operated as prime contractor the new Port of Jubailon the Persian Gulf side of the Arab Peninsula, with another workforce of less than a thousand and a management team.

These were the glorious and halcyon days where Oscar and we, from the Philippines, proudly pioneered in the Arab world, in Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Kuwait, Jordan, the UAE, and Libya in North Africa in port operations, electrification, oil exploration, mass housing, and infrastructure. 

Our brother Oscar was soft-spoken but firm in his decisions, gentle in manner but tough on discipline. He loved joking around but frowned on idleness and encouraged excellence.He was thorough and meticulous. 

 Besides business, he was also devoted to civic organizations, charitable causes, and economic diplomacy. 

Oscar served as president of the Rotary Club of Makati West, district governor of Rotary International District 3830, vice chairman of the Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry (PCCI), and a long-time esteemed member of the Management Association of the Philippines (MAP). 

He also served as honorary consul general of Ukraine in the Philippines, for which he was conferred the distinguished service award by the Ukraine government, for his remarkable contributions in strengthening diplomatic relations between the Philippines and Ukraine. 

As chairman of the 53-year-old Basic Petroleum and Minerals Inc., now Basic Energy Corporation, Oscar de Venecia steered the publicly listed holding company into one of the leading energy firms in the Philippines, with interests in various fields of renewable energy and alternative fuels, and oil and gas exploration and development. 

Farewell, our dear Oscar. We will surely miss you.