JUANA CHANGE: WAKE UP NA, BAYAN!


By Pepper Marcelo – A new star on the Internet is born. Though not quite on the same level as British singer Susan Boyle or local sensation Charice Pempengco, a new heroine, Juana Change, has emerged on the video site YouTube. Juana’s growing popularity among Filipinos stems from her vocal criticism of our political leaders and biting commentary on current issues.

With her rotund physique, colorful personality and in-your-face humor, Juana Change is spewing her forthright opinion on a number of topics in a dozen videos (and counting); from the always controversial subject of Charter-Change, the upcoming 2010 elections, as well as the plight and sacrifice of the overseas Filipino workers, among others. In “Christmas Offering”, for example, Juana rattles off the personalities involved in anomalies and controversies – from Virgilio Garcillano to Jose Pidal and Benjamin Abalos.

The woman behind the Juana Change character is Mae Paner, an accomplished commercial director, theater actress and comedienne. In an interview with Planet Philippines, she explained the impetus for the creation of Juana Change stemmed from a profound concern over what is happening in today’s scandal-ridden political environment and the desire to do something about the situation.

“One of my friends said, ‘Why don’t we come up with video materials where we use you as the actress?’” she recalled. “We can do that, but we don’t have money.”

To cut cost, Paner volunteered to play different roles and characters. “That way, we didn’t have to pay other talents, we only have to deal with me. So we did.”

A talented group of writers and directors from advertising, lawyers, students, and a gifted pool of theater actors make up the Convergence Team, which produces and uploads the videos.

The first Juana Change scripts, written by screenwriter Rody Vera, were more daring than what Paner had originally intended, but now says that was the key.

“Rody said, ‘Mae, this is the only way we can have the edge. There are a billion people doing something on YouTube. They will not know what we’re doing unless we give it an edge.’ That’s the edge – the truth, the boldness, the humor.”

Paner describes Juana Change as a one-of-a-kind, very daring figure. “She speaks her mind, she doesn’t mince words. She says exactly what she feels. I think that’s what’s very good about the character, and the use of humor to make it more interesting, I think it’s something that makes this Juana Change have its own advocacy.”
There are many layers to Juana beyond her outrageous physical appearance and mannerisms. Even the name “Juana Change” could be interpreted two ways: To “want a change” (calling for action), or “wala nang change” (to give in and resign to what’s happening).

So far, Paner and the Convergence Team have produced a dozen videos, with their most popular one, “Fixer”, which touched upon corruption and bribery, gaining more than 60,000 (and rising) viewer hits.

“We were shocked that people were responding,” she said. “We were hoping that people were watching, but we didn’t realize that it would be this fast.”

Juana Change’s popularity is nearly phenomenal. Paner has she been featured on the local news and gets invited regularly to symposia, school events and other gatherings. A crew from Germany had traveled to Manila to interview and feature her for a German news program.

“We realized, wow, this change thing is something so needed and responding to the soul of every Filipino,” said Paner. “You’re able to say what they want to say. Or like the way it’s said because it’s funny or the boldness of it. There’s something about Juana that they can relate to.”

Another Juana Change video which Paner cites as being the most effective is “Bayani”, which features Juana as an OFW and Jose Rizal, both of whom are portrayed as heroes in their own right. “There’s not one Filipino who is not related to an OFW. The way the dramaturgy was done with a hero, who is the OFW, and the hero who is Jose Rizal. How Rody weaved the two together was genius. Everyone could really relate to it.”

Despite Juana’s ever-increasing notoriety, not all the responses have been positive. One need not look further than the comments section on YouTube to read comments like, “Who do you think you are? You think you can change the country?” or “We like the message, but you’re ugly.”

Most of the negative feedback has been superficial and harmless. With Juana’s oftentimes biting critique and her penchant for alluding to well-known political figures, some have raised concern about the possibility of irate quarters pouncing on Paner.

“Knock on wood, so far there’s none,” she said. “These are people that could have me (makes a screeching sound)…at any time. It’s part of the game.”

Paner, Vera and the Convergence team plan to produce 30 videos, covering a wide variety of important themes. One which she hopes to do in the near future is a tribute to former President Cory Aquino. “Tita Cory passed away, and what she has passed on to us in terms of our democratic institutions has to be kept alive in all of us. We want to show that although she moved on, she taught us well how to love this country and take care of our democracy.”

In essence, Paner hopes that Juana Change, besides entertaining people and making them laugh, could move them from their apathy and be active participants in the affairs of the country.

“Really loving and loving the connection with yourself and the country,” Paner pointed put. “That’s what’s most difficult, being able to take responsibility for yourself.”

One of the groups Paner aspires to mobilize is the youth. From her constant bookings and appearances in various schools – with some of the students even planning to have Juana Change as the subject of their college — she hopes to inspire them to rise to the occasion. “They comprise half the vote in 2010. They could be the tipping point if they show up and vote wisely. We can change the face of politics. That’s why I spend so much time with them. If my schedule allows it, I go to them. They will be a major player.”

In the future, Paner wants to take Juana Change abroad to entertain and educate Filipino audiences and workers; bringing the message that even though they’re far away, they can still be involved in Philippine affairs.

In parting, Paner said, “They’re very far away from the Philippines, and the distance makes it harder to connect. But I hope that even if the OFWs have many other concerns, they would continue to maintain their connection to their country, and to make sure the Filipino in them and in their children is alive – in the way they think, the way they relate to each other, so that they could contribute to the betterment of their country.”

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