Carlos Palanca, Sr.
Carlos Palanca, Sr. was one of the most prominent Filipino-Chinese or Tsinoy businessmen and philanthropists during the American era. His Chinese name was Tan Quin Lay. He was a patron of educational institutions and instilled in his children the value of education. His heirs decided it was fitting that his name be commemorated in an endeavor that would help enrich the country's cultural heritage. Thus, the Carlos Palanca Memorial Awards for Literature were established in 1950. The Palanca Awards have been a continuing touchstone in Philippine literature, with most of the great writers having ended up on their illustrious roster.
Tan Quin Lay was born in Xiamen, China in 1869 and immigrated to the Philippines in 1884. He was an apprentice at a relative's hardware business for six years, until he opened his own store in 1890. During the American era, Tan, now rebaptized as a Christian with the name Carlos Palanca, was made a capitan (captain) of the Chinese community and designated as the Chinese consul general. Due to the opposition of the British and German merchants in Manila as well as the negative actions of the American colonial government, he was replaced in April 1899 with Li Yong Yew, a Chinese from Guangdong province.
Palanca diversified into textile trading until 1902, when he started a small distillery named La Tondeña. The distillery merged with the Song Fo Company in a partnership until 1913. Due to Palanca's astute business acumen, he was able to propel his company to become one of the top liquor suppliers. For example, he realized early on the value of upgrading and modernizing equipment and switching from nipa palm to molasses as a steady and plentiful supply of alcohol.
The Rise of La Tondeña
Palanca was very astute in bringing American managerial talent into his business. He hired American experts A.B. Powell, G.H. Tilbury and H.J. Shoemaker for key positions. They were tasked with managerial and technical responsibilities and had sole responsibilities for operating the expensive distillery apparatus.
Between 1906 and 1929 his business enterprises prospered on the back of a huge boom in alcohol consumption. For example, the Singaporean scholar Wong Kwok-Chu noted in his landmark study "Chinese in the Philippine Economy" that alcohol revenues surged from 1.3 million pesos to 4.8 million pesos. In 1924 Palanca bought the distillery arm of Ayala y Cia (Destilleria Ayala) and acquired Ginebra San Miguel, Ginebra Ayala, and Colonial Rum. A third distillery company Philippine Motor Alchohol Corporation (PMAC) was devoted to manufacturing alcohol motor fuel, a business well ahead of its time.