When security guards at Clark Special Economic Zone in the Philippine province of Pampanga foiled a jeepney driver's shambolic attempts to smuggle Duty Free goods out of the former air base, they might have been forgiven for expressing surprise at their quarry's choice of commodities. Allan Halal, a 22-year-old from nearby Mabalacat, had not chosen any of the smuggler's traditional booty. Instead, he had gone for pork luncheon meat and Pringle's potato chips. Halal had 80 boxes of the former and 60 of the latter, all stacked precariously in the back of his vehicle. Yet no one at Clark - the security guards, the authorities or the police who charged Halal - were in the least bit astonished. Neither was John Crank, a burly American with a military past. Crank, who became the first man to go scuba diving in the crater of Mount Pinatubo (he is planning to go jet-skiing in the crater 'if I can work out how to get the damn jet-ski up there') is chief operating officer of PX Club, the first and biggest Duty Free store at Clark. An affable and loquacious individual, Crank has at his fingertips facts about spending patterns at Clark that give credence to the theory that the Philippines is not really a poor country, it just happens to be home to a large number of poor people. 'There is plenty of money around and Filipinos are not afraid to spend it,' said Crank. Before joining the corporate mainstream, Crank was a member of America's Special Forces. Questions about the 'SF' are met with raised eyebrows, giggles then silence, although he does admit to having been 'in El Salvador'. Ten years ago Crank came to the Philippines to train bodyguards for senators and fell in love with the country. 'I am a Filipino not by birth, but by choice. I am very proud of this place,' he says, looking out over 9,000 square metres of store space stocked with everything even that most fanatical of shoppers, Imelda Marcos, would want. When a Filipino entrepreneur opened the store, everyone told him Clark was bound to fail. Ten years later 35,000 people a week walk through its doors, all with a Duty Free allowance of between US$100 (HK$772) to US$2,000, depending on their status. In an effort to boost the local economy, which was devastated by the closure of the US Clark air base and the Pinatubo eruption, residents from nearby towns have all been given a US$200 allowance. Balikbayans, visiting Filipinos who are resident abroad, get US$2,000. Crank is careful about divulging figures, but says PX Club can take up to US$100,000 a day, but what Filipinos spend their money on raises eyebrows. Take chocolate. The president of Hershey's recently visited PX Club because it holds the unofficial record for the most Hershey's chocolate sold in Asia. Even more popular, for reasons Crank admits he has yet to fathom, is tinned corned beef. 'We have put a limit of six cans per person on corned beef,' he said. 'If we didn't it would all be gone within an hour of opening.' Antonio Rivera, a sociologist at Ateneo University in Manila, is not surprised by the huge demand for Western titbits. 'Anything made in a foreign country is deemed to be far superior to anything made in the Philippines,' he said. 'People from Manila can get corned beef in any supermarket in Makati. But they would rather buy it at Clark because it is imported.' The White House has requested that US President Bill Clinton's eight planes be parked at Clark for the forthcoming APEC meeting. Mr Clinton will have little time to shop, but if he does, he will know where to find Asia's biggest supply of Hershey's.