Thursday, September 29, 2011

The Harry Stonehill Story

From G.I. Joe to Tycoon
"History repeats itself,  first as tragedy, the second as farce"   
                                                                      -Karl Marx                                                                                                                                  
The Uncanny Businessman

Harry Stonehill courtesy of Lopez Museum
In the less than two decades of his stay in the Philippines, Harry Stonehill  was able to build a business empire reputedly valued at around 50 Million US Dollars. The 18 corporations  he started in the country were pioneering and high earning business ventures, some of which are still existing today.

From tobacco, to glass manufacture, to cement production and publishing,  Stonehill was the uncanny businessman never ceasing in his search for new ventures. Reclaiming parts of Manila Bay and turning it into an opulent district was said to be his original idea.

Indeed, Harry Stonehill was turning the country into his business playground when suddenly his luck turned sour. In 1960 he was  subject to a congressional investigation on alleged tax evasion charges. What happened next in the following years were series of events falling into places exposing Stonehill on his alleged illegal business activities. Charges of bribery, influence peddling, economic sabotage etc. surfaced. Discovered to be receiving money from Stonehill in exchange of favors were known government officials and media men . The scandal even reached the president and some of his cabinet members.  Feeling a  fallout in the case, then President Diosdado Macapagal  ordered Stonehill's sudden deportation without trial. Macapagal even dismissed his justice secretary Jose W. Diokno who was heading the government investigation on the Stonehill case.

Lieutenat Harry Solomon Stonehill

Harry Steinberg (aka Harry Stonehill) was born 1918 in Missouri USA to a hard working immigrant couple who traces their ancestry to Polish Jews.  The family then moved to Chicago where Harry Stonehill spent his formative years. In 1942 he changed his surname by translating it literally from its Germanic form to its anglicized version  thereby becoming Stonehill. He first came to the Philippines in 1945 with American liberation forces, (where he was a lieutenant) and settled in Manila. Consumer goods in the Philippines were scarce after Liberation and it gave the young Stonehill the hint to where to focus his entrepreneurial drive. He first started selling basic items such as needles and threads in Chinatown, (supplied by his mother from Chicago). Then he went on marketing of all things, American Christmas cards in the country. Afterwards, he moved on to bigger undertakings selling army surplus supplies, from boots and vehicles to chocolates and Spam. It was during this time that Stonehill established together with his US army friend ex Sergeant Ira Blaustein one of his early corporation - the Universal Trading Company. But it was in the Tobacco industry that he had his first big hit.

Tobacco King

Harry Stonehill  introduced in the market a cigarette brand called "Puppies". It became a hit, outselling competitors thereby confirming his reputation as the new Tobacco king of the Philippines. He did this by introducing Virginia tobacco to Ilocos, encouraging the farmers of the region to grow this kind of tobacco, hiring experts to help the tobacco farmer and then buying back their crops.

By the end of the 1950's Stonehill's business empire was made up of good standing companies such as Republic Glass Corporation for glass production, Philippine Tobacco Corporation for tobacco and tobacco curing, Philippine Cotton Corporation for cotton and textile, American Asiatic Oil Corporation, Far East Publishing for  media and publishing and other outstanding venture such as  low cost housing projects etc. His companies were leading the industrial sector and at the same attempting, as he claims,  to give new economic power to the Filipino middle class. Then came the 1960 congress hearing against Stonehill on  charges of tax evasion, charges which Stonehill simply labeled as "a campaign of vilification".

Stonehill with his lawyers in the congressional hearing 1960

The Empire Crumbles

The congressional hearing on Harry Stonehill resulted in the lawmakers unable to pin down the American Mogul. It seems like whatever they threw against him, Stonehill had always a ready answer.The hearing itself became a media event thus making Stonehill  a household name. Then in March 1962 events took an unexpected turn. Harry Stonehill and his business associate Robert Brooks were arrested on charges of frustrated murder. Meinhart Spielman,  former general manager of Philippine Tobacco Corporation accused the two man of beating him (almost to death). In filing the charges, in fear of his life,  Spielman then revealed to the NBI (National Bureau of Investigation)  the tobacco company's shady dealings .This prompted Justice Secretary Jose W. Diokno to order the NBI to conduct raids on the various offices of Stonehill.

The NBI was said to have seized about two truckloads of documents and the raid also revealed Stonehill's  wiretapping activities on a number of government officials. But the most damning piece of evidence against Stonehill was the discovery of the so called "Blue Book". It was where Stonehill listed the names of more than 200 public officials, businessmen , and media people who received money from him in exchange for favors, and  information. The then Senator Ferdinand E. Marcos was said to be on the list and even President Diosdado Macapagal himself. ( having received 3Million Pesos worth of campaign funds).


Stonehill and Brooks were arrested on March 3 1962 on charges of tax evasion, economic sabotage, blackmail and corruption of public officials etc. On August 3 1962 five months after their arrest, President Diosdado Macapagal ordered that the two respondents be immediately "deported by the first available transportation from the Philippines". Macapagal would be criticized with this action,  Stonehill's and Brook's legal woes would continue in the US, where their own government would bring them to court with almost the same charges ranging from tax evasion, unfair business practices, illegal dollar export, economic sabotage etc.

Unable to take roots in the US, ( he was constantly hounded by the US government), Harry Stonehill and his family (he had four children with his second wife, a Filipina, Lourdes Blanco) would then wander from country to country. In 1963, Mexico deported him, the next year Canada deported him also. He briefly stayed in Japan, England and Brazil until finally settling in Switzerland and in Spain. Most  friends who visited him in his so called "exile"would attest to Stonehills longing to return to the Phillippines which he considered home.

Defining Harry Stonehill

One cannot help but ask again; Who really was Harry Stonehill? How was it possible that  in the span of  two decades he became such  a powerful man in the country? Did the CIA really played a role in his downfall?  Why did the US, his own government turned against him?

In 1987, a year after the Edsa I Revolution, Harry Stonehill made a brief visit to Manila and hinted on recovering his wealth. Nothing came out of it. On March 2002 Harry Stonehill died in a hospital in Malaga, Spain. He was 84.


    I. What happened to Stonehill's Assets?

The Million Dollar question

In 1963 the Philippine Senate did a probe on Stonehill's asset.  
According to the BIR, Stonehill, Brooks and the Philippine Tobacco Corporation owed the government a total of 115 million Php in specific, corporate and income taxes from 1959 to 1961.  It was revealed later by the Senate Blue Ribbon Subcommittee headed that time by Sen Lorenzo Sumulong that the necessary liens were not issued until it was too late. As a result not a single centavo was collected from the 115million Php. It was also revealed that 10 million Php in Stonehill assets were transferred to four aliens and five Filipinos. The transfers were made from 4 to 24 of April 1962. They were transferring assets while under arrest? Confidential information received by the Senate Blue Ribbon Subcommittee  was to the effect that certain former government officials were among the transferees  of the Stonehill stocks. In January 1965 Senator Ganzon charged that Stonehill empire continued to flourish in Manila, run by ten dummies of  Stonehill.

II. The corporations he started where are they now?

Geronomo Z. Velasco's book published 2006
The Stonehill ventures had also produce outstanding industrialist . One of such was the late Geronimo Velasco, Minister of Energy during the Marcos era. In this memoir book. Velasco related how he was tapped in the late 1950's by Stonehill to build a glass plant in Pinagbuhatan, Pasig,( a place he described in his book as a 'duck farm"). The plant would be known as Republic Glass Corporation (RGC) Velasco would then lead the plant in its early years then becoming President when Stonehill  was deported  (Stonehill allegedly sold his stocks to Castle and Cookes in 1962. The plant is still operational but now under Japanese management). It was also in the ground of the  plant in 1974 that Velasco, while riding his horse "Lightning", received the news of his impending appointment to the Marcos cabinet. When this book was published people thought it would be a tell all revelation about the Marcos years but instead it was an outstanding study of the country's attempt to achieved energy sufficiency.  Velasco puts premium in energy self reliance as a prerequisite to industrialization and development. Much of Velasco's vision remains unfulfilled. History would prove him right with the global trend in the search for alternative power source .

III. What happened to some personalities involved in the Stonehill Case?

President Diosdado Macapagal

No matter how hard he and his government tried to remove the stigma cause by the  Harry  Stonehill case,  people  would go on associating him with it  for years. Stonehill's case would be openly discussed again with the allegation of corruption that hounded the administration of Gloria Macapagal Arroyo. (ZTE deal, Jocjoc Bolante Fertilizer Scam etc.) People could not help but draw the parallelism of the separate cases involving father and daughter. Diosdado Macapagal would seek a second term of office but was soundly defeated, in an ironic twist of fate,  by Ferdinand E. Marcos.

Jose W. Diokno
He came out as the hero in this case and it did define his career as a public official. When he was dismissed as Justice secretary he openly questioned the president's decision  allowing Stonehill to go with this words: "How can the government now prosecute the corrupted when it allowed the corrupter to go".  In 1963 he was elected senator. He was imprisoned when Marcos declared Martial Law. Released and was appointed Human Right Secretary during  Cory Aquino's term. He died in February 1987. Filipinos still remembers "Ka Pepe" and his valiant stand against corruption, abuse of power and dictatorship.

Meinhart Spielman
Meinhart Spielman vanished, he was never seen again. Reports said that he was brought to Sulu and was murdered there. Unconfirmed  statements claimed he  was a CIA man.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Manuel N. Luna- 19th Century Filipino Violin Virtuoso

One of the Talented Luna Brothers. 

Manuel Luna as painted by his brother Juan Luna

A Matter of Introduction

Perhaps we can say that Manuel Andres Luna y Novicio was a man of incredible talents. Belonging to the illustrious Luna brothers,  he was first a mariner then studied music and the violin to become one of the famous Filipino violinist of the 19nth century.

Manuel Andres Luna y Novicio was born in Badoc , Ilocos Norte on June 30 1856. The eldest son of Joaquin Luna and Laureana Novicio in a brood of seven.  Manuel studied at the Ateneo Municipal then later to the prestigious "Escuela Nautica" where he and also his brother painter Juan Luna finished their seaman's course. Manuel graduated in his class with  honors and earned the certificate:"Piloto de Altos Mares".

Brothers Manuel and Juan Luna worked  in ships that sailed the South Seas. While his brother Juan was interested in art, Manuel spent his free time learning to play the violin . Once back in Manila, he decided to take the instrument seriously studying under Spanish violin pedagogue Prof. Remifio Calahorra. It was Prof. Calahorra who advised Manuel Luna to travel and continue his music studies in Europe, In 1897 the young Manuel Luna then sailed to Spain.

Spain and her Music in the late 19th century

Nationalism in music was prevalent in Europe in the middle up to the latter part of the 19nth century. In Spain composers like Manuel de Falla,  Enrique Granados, Isaac Albeniz etc. created works that echoes Spanish themes and folk music. It is also a fact, that many of the greatest Spanish zarsuelas were written in the period (1880 to the 1890's ) and its was due to the group of patriotic composers and librettist  that revived the zarsuela form in the 1860's. In the field of instrumental music names like Francisco Tárrega (considered the father of the modern art of guitar playing) charmed the concert goers of Madrid and other cities of Europe playing his compositions with this instrument that is truly defined for Spain. Meanwhile two names were to be considered important in the field of spanish violin music. They would later be known as the two representatives of the "escuela española  violinistica" (spanish violin school). That two names are Pablo de Sarasate and Jesus de Monasterio. The former was to become probably the greatest violinist of the 19th century. The latter overshadowed by the brilliant career of  Sarasate, would then play an important role in the musical career of many of his students including Manuel N. Luna.

Jesus de Monasterio

Violinist and Conductor

Manuel Luna studied the violin at the Conservatorio de Madrid  under this renowned Spanish violin professor Jesus Monasterio y Agüero.  He was said to be admitted in an advance class due to his previous training. He also studied conducting at the same time. In 1879 Manuel Luna  received his diploma as "Professor de Violin" signed by the conservatory's director Emilio Arrieta

A Jean Baptiste Vuillaume  Violin
Jean Baptiste Vuillaume was a leading luthier in Paris in the late 1800. Manuel Luna's violin was a Vuillaume. After his death, his violin was entrusted to his brothers Jose Luna and to Gen. Antonio Luna. A recent auction of a Vuillaume (the picture above) fetched the prize of the instrument at  18,500 US dollar

The signature mark of the violin maker inside the instrument

Manila Awed

Manuel Luna then traveled to France and Italy, to see some of the famous violin soloist of those countries, observing perhaps to further hone his knowledge in violin performance. At the end of 1879, he returned to the Philippines and did a series of concerts. In December he was presented at the Variadades Theater playing accompanied with the piano,  the piece "Scena Di Balleto by Belgian violinist/composer Charles Aguste de Beriot (it is interesting to note that Monasterio studied under de Beriot). One Manila newspaper at that time said to have written:" Señor Luna played with brilliancy, delicacy, sentiment and purity of intonation, thus giving honor to Monasterio, his former professor"

His skills as a conductor earned him positive revues from leading journals of the time.  Having led ensembles and orchestras in outstanding performances in Manila . One such notable event was a January 8, 1881 concert,  when he conducted a big choral group and an orchestra in interpreting  Louis Niedermeyer's "Mass".

Manuel Luna was also often  mentioned side by side with his leading Filipino contemporaries like foremost violinist Gil Lopez y Villanueva, they were often called " the representative of a truly local talent."

Unfortunate End

Planning to return to Europe, Manuel Luna went to Agoo La Union to bid farewell to his parents, He caught a dreaded disease on his way and on July 15 1883 Manuel Luna died and was immediately buried. His price possession, a Jean Baptiste Vuillaume Violin was left to his brothers Joaquin Luna and Antonio Luna.

The Luna Brothers

Manuel Luna with brother Jose N Luna

Juan Luna -self portrait

General Antonio N Luna

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Gone is my River!

Of  Rizal And The River Communities of 19th Century town of  Pasig                            

José P. Rizal
 José Rizal immortalized and romanticized the Pasig River more than any other intellectual in our history. In his novels,  he mentioned the river many times and even wrote about the legends that abound in it. The climax of the Noli Me Tangere, that river chase on Ibarra happened in the Pasig river. Which part of the Pasig River?.......Not that far from my hometown of Pinagbuhatan, Pasig. If we deal with it with reality, we can say that Ibarra passed by our place before the shooting happened in the Laguna de Bay. But actually not only Ibarra. But Rizal himself had probably seen the rustic image of our barrio from the boat he was traveling many times.

The Manila to Laguna  journey (and vice versa), in the 19nth century were done via Pasig River. It is the ideal way since highways were non existence. Roads were unpaved, primitive and unsafe. The trip was usually done with steam boat or Casco. Rizal gave us a very vivid glimpse of that travel in the opening chapter of the El Filibusterismo, where the steam ship Tabo was traversing the Pasig River. What was interesting for me in this chapter was Rizal writing about the Pasig River waterway and the river communities of the town of Pasig  in the 19th century. For example in Chapter III he wrote:
"When Padre Florentino greeted the little group there were no longer traces of the ill humor of the past discussions. Perhaps they were influenced by the spirits, by the charming houses of Pasig,  the glasses of sherry they had taken to whet their appetite........

I asked many times, where could this houses be? What are those houses he was writing about? My research led me first to conclude that Rizal was describing the area around Sumilang nearing Kalawaan,  where houses were said to be beautiful and well built in the latter part of the 19nth century.  Subsequent inquiry specially with the historical experts of Pasig City suggested it could be the houses near the church. Remember, 19th century Pasig was different. The dominating edifice at that time was the church. Back then , from the Pasig river, if one is already in the vicinity of Sumilang one could see the church dome,  the bell tower and the houses that surrounds  it.
The view of the church from the Bitukang Manok. Note the dome of the church

*Then middle of Chapter III Rizal wrote of legends that abounds in the Pasig. The legends of "Malapad na Bato"(believed to be found in the Makati area),  Doña Jeronima's Cave (found somewhere in Barangay Pineda , Pasig) and the "Buwayang Bato" (said to be located also in Pineda or in Guadalupe, Makati), the crocodile that turned to stone, leaves us with more questions and mystery. Indeed Rizal immortalized the river with this tales. Incredible.                                    

           *The Legend of Doña Jeronima as Rizal wrote:

But of all this things written, the most interesting and the most candid,  was that last scene in Chapter I of the El Filibusterismo where a group of travelers were discussing on the upper deck of the Tabo . Two characters, Ben Zayb the journalist and Don Custodio, were talking about ducks...itik... that abound the area. Now quoting Rizal in the El Filibusterismo he wrote (Don Custodio telling Ben Zayb): "I am not talking of wild ducks, I mean the domesticated ones. Those that are bred in Pateros and Pasig." Rizal was actually mentioning the source of livelihood of my ancestors and that also of the ancestors of many Pasigueños who lived and still are living near the banks of  the river. To be precise, the barrios of Pinagbuhatan and the Bambang-Kalawaan area. For this are the places in Pasig where duck industry flourished for perhaps more than a century before its demised in the 1980's.

  Pateros river scene 19nth Cent. by Jose Honorato Lozano. Notice the "kamalig" and the "puya"or puyahan". 

 Rizal was so indeed a keen observer for he even discussed  in that El Filibusterismo chapter how duck feeds were obtained in the area and of course he also mentioned the famous "balut".

In the mid 1960's when industrial pollution started to ravage the Pasig River, the duck raising industry started it's decline. As feeds "caracoles" (river snails or "sambuele" in the local language),  became scarce, leading family of duck raisers in Pinagbuhatan started to abandon the business, which was then taken over by the Chinese entepreneurs, only to abandon it also later. The Kalawaan folks held on a little bit for years but as the 1980's came,  the whole duck industry of Pasig would be dead. Ending perhaps one of the oldest known industry of the river communities of Pasig.

If Rizal would see the Pasig River now from my hometown, he would probably say: "Gone is my river!"


1973 Photo
Circle marks the entrance of the cave. Its beside the c5 bridge connecting Pasig to Makati


Excavation done by  Barangay Pineda, Pasig

Old Picture of "Puyahan"                            

Familiar scene in duck raising areas  of Pasig and Pateros

19th Century  Pasig River Scenes

View from the town near Taguig on the Pasig River  by  Jose Honorato Lozano

 The casco as mode of transportation.

Mouth of the Pasig River (ETH Bibliothek Bild Archiv)

 Steam boats and cascos.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Pinagbuhatan-Fiesta ni San Sebastián

Celebrating One of Pasig's Oldest and Most Revered Catholic Tradition


Pagoda San Sebastian by Domingo Bombio
Every year on the 20th of January, the usually monotonous streets of Barangay Pinagbuhatan in the City of Pasig,  converts itself into  a vibrant place of merry making and festivities. The focal point of the almost mardi gras like atmosphere in the barangay is always the parish church.  January 20 is afterall the feast day of its revered patron saint, San Sebastian

Viva San Sebastian!

At the break of dawn of the said day, brass bands parades the streets as if calling the people to start the feastivities. Now and then that heroic sound of  martial music would be broken by the distant sounds of exploding fireworks.

Formal celebration starts with the morning mass officiated by the parish priest. In truth the building excitement would not be found inside the church where mass is being held but instead outside. In the church ground the brewing party heats up. People gathers outside, young and old alike anticipating the start of the street celebration.

When the priest concludes the mass, shouts of "Viva San Sebastian!" would fill the air,  signaling the start of that age old tradition of Pinagbuhatan....the famous "San Sebastian Pagoda"
Pagoda circa 1960's by Domingo Bombio 

The pagoda for what it means now, has become a street celebration honoring San Senastián. It used to be a fluvial parade,(like any other pagodas in the Philippines), the river after all was the source of livelihood and the lifeblood of the barrio for centuries. It is also a way of thanking and blessing. When the Pasig River became polluted and the means of livelihood of the people shifted from river to other means,  the famous pagoda was transfered to the streets. But traces of its fluvial origin is still evident with the "basaan" or  those water games among the people joining or watching the pagoda.

"Basaan sa Pagoda ni San Sebastian 2012"  by Domingo Bombio
The street pagoda "Pinagbuhatan Fiesta" by Domingo Bombio

Each district or "purok" of the barangay assigns groups of  folk dancers in colorful native costumes to represent their area, gaily dancing into the beat of a fandango or a valse provided by their respective hired brass bands. This, plus a number of penitents or "namamanata", dress in native costumes, adds to the vibrant aspects of the fiesta.

Each district has also its own image of the San Sebastián paraded and danced around in the pagoda. But the  attraction as always, is the main image of the said "santo,"  the one that is housed in the church itself. It is where the people and the penitents usually crowds around. It is a belief among the folks of the barrio that this image is miraculous.

There is also this oral tradition, a story that was handed down from generation to generation, that the San Sebastián came or was brought by the Spaniards in this community via river and waterways that traverse the area. Historical facts do lend truth to this tradition.

Pasig's Ancient Town Center

Ca 1595. tagalog nobility from Boxer Codex
According to early chronicles, pre-hispanic Pasig together with the area of Pinagbuhatan used to be part of that 15th century kingdom that stretch from the Pasig River to the historic waterways called "Bitukang Manok" (the present day creek). It was founded and ruled by a princess, Dayang Kalangitan with her consort Rajah Gat Lontok. When the Spaniards entered the mouth of Manila Bay in May 8 1570, arriving in Tondo,  they found the heir of Dayang Kalangitan, Rajah Sulaiman II (Rajah Matanda) and his relatives ruling parts Manila and Tondo.

Towards the end 1570,  the Spaniards under the leadership of Miguel López de Legaspi  started their systematic conquest of Luzon including Manila. True enough in mid 1571, they were advancing toward the Laguna de Bay area.

In Cainta /Taytay the Spaniards encountered stiff resistance from it's Muslim ruler. Commanded by Legazpi's grandson Juan de Salcedo. They fought a bloody war against the men of Cainta led by it's leader Gat Maitan. The latter choosing to fight to the death rather than surrender.

From their base in Cainta the men of Legazpi surveyed the Laguna Bay area and found a tributary (Cainta/Antipolo river) leading to a long waterway called Bitukang Manok. In January 20, 1572, the Spaniards led by Agustinian Father Alonzo de Alvarado and  Juan de la Isla (first encomendero of Pasig) founded a settlement near the banks of the Bitukang Manok and called it " San Sebastián de Pasig". Honoring  the feast day of the said saint.

Tomb of Legaspi at San Agustin Church, Intramuros, Manila
  Legaspi was born in Zumarraga Gipuzkoa in the Basque region of Spain. Basques are  known devotees of San Sebastián. The capital city of  the Basque region is also called San Sebastián . Every 20th of January they have this wonderful tradtion called Tamborrada, a 24 hour procession of drummers honoring the day.

After the area around the new settlement was surveyed, the Spaniards concluded that it was not ideal as a "cabecera". Concerns were also raised when it was learned that the area of Pinagbuhatan suffers from periodic inundation. Finally in 1573, almost a year after it's founding, the center of the town was transfered to the area called Malinao. It was not only safe from flooding but was also strategically located. (Near Malinao is where the Bitukang Manok leads to the Marikina River, places such as Marikina, San Mateo could be easily accessed from there.)

Pinagbuhatan was then relegated into just another "visita"of Pasig. But through the years people of Pasig would refer the area as "pinagbuhatan ng misa" or "pinagbuhatan ng simbahan", hence Pinagbuhatan got it's name.

"Sa visita muna tayo"

Many stories in a form of oral tradition fills the lore of the patron saint. Perhaps the most touching story about the people's devotion to the San Sebastián was the story of a group of guerilla fighters from Pinagbuhatan returning home after World War II. The guerilla group all belonging to the legendary Agustin Marking's Command, were  disembarking from the military vehicle when they were overheard saying: "Sa visita muna tayo...kung hindi sa kanya marahil patay na tayo".(Let's go to the chapel first...if not for him- San Sebastián-we could have been dead).

A True Identity for Pinagbuhatan

And through the years,  the people of Pinagbuhatan did not lose their identity as devotees of San Sebastián. According to recorded history and common belief,  the fiesta and the pagoda had been celebrated yearly for three centuries now. It is a historical fact,  that it is one of the oldest catholic traditions of Pasig.

Indeed, proudly we can  say: "Founded on the 20th of January, in the year of our Lord 1572, on the feast day of our patron saint,  San Sebastian."                                                                                                                                                                         
                                                         "Viva San Sebastián!"

Painting by Sodoma depicting San Sebastián c. 1525

Visit my blog about the life and times of San Sebastian
Click here:San Sebastian-Sundalo at Martir ng Kristiayanismo