2020-03-29

Who is Harry Stonehill?

The “Y” generation will not know him but the Baby Boomers will surely remember him.

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 Philippines? Did the CIA really play a role in his downfall? Why did the US, his own government turn against him?

In the less than two decades of his stay

(photo courtesy of Lopez Museum) 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.

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. 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 labelled as “a campaign of vilification”.

Deportation

Stonehill was arrested on March 3, 1962 on charges of tax evasion, economic sabotage, blackmail and corruption of public officials. On August 3, 1962, President Diosdado Macapagal ordered that he be immediately “deported by the first available flight from the Philippines”. He briefly stayed in Japan, England and Brazil until finally settling in Switzerland and in Spain.

Return to the Philippines

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.