Meet Juana Change, the Comedienne Turned Political Activist

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No, She’s not Franklin Drilon in makeup. And you have to admit it’s very hard not to notice her in public. She would always stand out in a crowd of protesters, her appearance alone being her strong message.

Juana Change — Mae Paner in real life — is arguably the most popular satirist in the Philippines today. She has brought political satire to the street protests and the internet.

The making of the character

Juana Change first came out in a YouTube video in December 2008 when then President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo was facing a string of corruption scandals

Paner and other professionals had gathered to discuss what they could do for the country. In what Paner coined as a “visioning exercise,” one of the participants wrote “Wanna Change.” She then suggested replacing “Wanna” with “Juana,” a name representative of Filipinos. As most of them are artists, they all agreed to utilize their talents for their advocacy for social transformation.

Despite limited resources, the team is able to produce short-length videos. It was a big hurdle to create high-quality videos on a tight budget because all of them were used to doing well-funded productions.

Art, Satire are her tools

Paner has always identified herself as a communicator.

“It was in PETA [Philippine Educational Theater Association] that I learned what love for country means,”

Paner said.

Her involvement in PETA made her realize how effective art is in criticizing the government.

“It’s very threatening to the administration… Artists are very effective in criticism because the attack is different, its penetration to the audience’s consciousness is different. Art goes straight to the heart, to the psyche.”

She was arrested and detained in 1984 but was eventually released. She was 21 then, a fresh graduate of Psychology from the University of Santo Tomas.

Popularity in social media

In her YouTube videos, she does not get instant feedback but the reach is wider.

“When it gets viral, it becomes like a virus that has a life on its own. You can no longer control who uses the material,”

She said.

The videos get in the hands of government and paid trolls, and at the same time, they also become available to students and other netizens. They can view the videos anytime; the message is virtually replicated many times over.

Recent controversy

Paner recently drew the ire of the AFP after one of her stunts during President Rodrigo Duterte’s State of the Nation Address.

Paner wore a camouflage, battle-dress attire in a protest action early this week.

“Her act of illegally using an AFP uniform is in violation of Act 179 of the RPC (Unauthorized Use of Uniforms) and RA 493 (Prohibition of Use of Insignias, Decorations, Badges and patches prescribed for the AFP),”

Brig Gen. Restituto Padilla said in a statement.

“We will take the necessary legal action to hold Ms. Paner,”

He added.

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