Wednesday, February 03, 2010
An Icon for Our Time: Swatch Issues Corazon Aquino Tribute Watch
On January 24, 2010, a nice Sunday afternoon, the business hub of Makati City was laidback, but the Ayala Museum, within a cluster of malls, put on a conspicuously festive atmosphere, mimicking a Filipino fiesta but with an “upgraded” and thematic look complete with popular merienda fares served with flair—chicharon baboy topped with a blob of cottage cheese and sariwang lumpiang ubod, sliced and served on a sungka—and common street food such as popcorn, cotton candy, sorbetes in carts and sorbeteros. More noticeable was the color yellow—on buntings, on the confetti, on the uniforms of the band players and baton twirlers, and clothes donned by many of the guests. This event was for former President Corazon “Cory” Aquino, considered by many as the “mother of Philippine democracy” whose death last year was overwhelmingly lamented and who would have been celebrating her 77th birthday the next day, Jan. 25, and the launch of a tribute watch by Swiss watch company Swatch designed by eminent industrialist Jaime Zobel de Ayala.
Yellow, the “color of courage,” Aquino’s speechwriter and politician Teodoro “Teddy Boy” Locsin said, is the emblematic color of the Aquinos and revolution that the 1983 assassination of Senator Benigno “Ninoy” Aquino sparked. His unassuming wife Cory was the leading figure in that Edsa or People’s Power Revolution in 1986 that toppled the 20-year dictatorship of Ferdinand Marcos. The event gained worldwide recognition, and Cory was hailed as Man of the Year by Time magazine and awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. Her administration, while beset with many problems, was praised for its sincerity and attempt at honest governance. Even after her presidency, Cory’s voice carried weight. As she reverted to private citizenship, her power seemed to wane, but her death proved how much she is revered.
After suffering from colon cancer for over a year, Cory died on Aug. 1, 2009, at the Makati Medical Center. The Aquino family declined an offer for a state funeral and Cory’s wake was held at the Saint Benilde Gymnasium of the De La Salle School in Greenhills, San Juan. She was then transferred to the Manila Metropolitan Cathedral in Intramuros on Aug. 3, becoming the second lay person permitted to lie in state in there as the church is reserved for deceased archbishops of Manila. People trooped to the cathedral day and night to bid her farewell, the queues stretching to several kilometres, and kept vigil. The outpouring of grief and support magnified when she was brought to her final resting place at the Manila Memorial Park in Sucat, Parañaque, on Aug. 5. Mourners flocked along the funeral route and many more accompanied the cortege. It was a revolution once again—streets decorated with banners, television and newspapers making tributes, people wearing literally or symbolically yellow ribbons, institutions pronouncing their grief—and Cory became the most exalted personality in recent times.
The fast iconization of Cory Aquino has begun. There are even talks of sainthood. As with many groups of people, Filipinos are fond of symbols and images and the mysticism surrounding them, and seem to have a constant need for heroic icons. Cory represents the Filipinos’ finest hour.
Starting with books and shirts, other commemorative items are now being made, and a watch seems to be an important item in the process of becoming a cultural icon. Mickey Mouse, Mao Zedong and other popular icons are in watches. But with Cory, the watch is invested with heavy meaning.
The first company to unveil a commemorative watch is the luxury watch company Philip Stein. Made available in November 2009, the Philip Stein Corazon C. Aquino Commemorative Watch features a yellow ribbon on the dial, a yellow lizard leather strap, the engraved phrase “A Tribute to the 11th President of the Philippines Corazon C. Aquino—Mother of Democracy” at the back, the number 11 highlighted in yellow on the clock face, a sapphire scratch proof glass, and other Philip Stein technology. Endorsed by Cory’s youngest daughter and celebrity Kris Aquino, the watch, with only 1,011 pieces made, costs a hefty P53,000.
The Cory Aquino Swatch watch is more accessible and popular, and perhaps more memorable because of the involvement of personalities close to the late president. Virgie Ramos, owner of the company Gift Gate, which exclusively distributes Swatch in the Philippines, is a close friend of Cory, as well as the designer Jaime Zobel.
The former chief executive officer of the Ayala Corporation and his wife Bea first met Cory when they visited Ninoy Aquino, who was in exile in Boston in the United States. From then on, they became strong supporters of Cory and crucial personalities in the revolution.
“They were among the few who openly supported Mom and her fight for democracy and decent governance even when it was not yet safe or fashionable to do so,” Cory’s daughter Ballsy Aquino-Cruz said.
Yellow confetti raining on the stretch of Ayala Avenue was one of the most memorable images of the revolution. Yellow confetti also rained at the Swatch launch, reliving those momentous times as about 300 friends, family and supporters of Cory attended the event. The Aquino children were present—Senator Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino, Ballsy, Pinky Aquino-Abellada and Viel Aquino-Dee—except for Kris, a former Swatch endorser and image model, who had work that day.
Hosted by singer Martin Nievera, the program included actress-singer Lea Salonga singing “Ang Bayan Ko” (My Country), which is considered an alternative national anthem, and Zobel telling the story of how the Cory Aquino Swatch came to be.
In August 2009, Zobel was vacationing in Europe Ramos called and asked him to design a tribute watch. Although a noted art photographer himself and an art patron, and having designed a Swatch watch—the Philippine centennial Swatch watch—before, Zobel said, “My first reaction was panic.”
“How does one put a heroic life into a watch?” he asked himself.
That night, he wrote a letter, more of a tribute, to Cory, pouring out his emotions, and then began the processing of creating the tribute watch, a project in partnership with ABS-CBN Licensing and the Benigno S. Aquino, Jr. Foundation.
Swatch released two watches, both with yellow-and-black straps with the faces of Cory and Ninoy, the words Ipagpapatuloy Ko (I will continue) and a rain of the emblematic yellow ribbons. One has a black clock face with the yellow sun of the Philippine flag, evocative of Zobel’s Philippine centennial watch. The other, a bigger one, has a plain yellow clock face. The two watches are sold as a set in a case formed like a coffee-table book titled A Woman Dressed in Sunshine, reminiscent of an epithet of a Marian apparition and an attempt at iconography. The book casing has several pages of pictures, articles including a reprint of an important piece that appeared in Mr. & Ms. magazine in Sept. 16, 1983, and an introduction by Locsin. The letter Zobel wrote is reprinted at the back of the casing.
Swatch has only made 801 sets, each selling at P8,100, the number signifying Cory’s date of death, which was almost sold out during the launch.
“Today, in a small but important Swatch watch, Cory becomes alive again. We must all remember not to forget and we must not forget to remember,” Zobel ended his speech.
The culminating activity of the launch was the unveiling of the 24-foot replica of the tribute watch at the plaza of the elegant Ayala Museum, along Makati Avenue. Yellow confetti rained down. The band played “Tie a Yellow Ribbon,” Ninoy’s favorite. Attendees glowed reliving what they called the “golden times” and basked in the sense of unity and pride at that instance. There was an emotional bubble at that time. It may create tension with reality like the tension of the tribute watch itself—between the watch’s essential function of telling time and the tribute purpose, which wants to break time into timelessness.