"History repeats itself, first as tragedy, the second as farce"
The Uncanny Businessman
|Harry Stonehill courtesy of Lopez Museum|
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.
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 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?
II. The corporations he started where are they now?
III. What happened to some personalities involved in the Stonehill Case?
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.