Juana Change: Some Noynoy insiders don't wanna change

Special Reports
Juana Change: Some Noynoy insiders don’t wanna change
05/27/2010 | 05:29 PM

No fictional character has been more identified with the nation’s recent tumultuous politics than Juana Change, the plump and funny firebrand who became a flesh-and-blood avatar for the anti-Arroyo mood among many performing artists.

During Noynoy Aquino’s run for the presidency, the neon-haired activist became a political campaigner, entertaining his large crowds with her brand of comic relief. In the process, she became a symbol for the volunteerism that famously animated the Aquino campaign.

But most recently, she was cited by pro-Aquino columnist Conrado de Quiros as a symbol for the seething discontent of “Yellow Army" volunteers who, in the wake of victory, now feel shunted by the political professionals more identified with the Liberal Party and by the Arroyo administration alumni who were very visible in the Aquino campaign.

Juana Change warns Noynoy Aquino that there are people surrounding him who want business as usual. Image from Paner's Facebook account
Contacted by GMANews.TV, Juana Change – character actress Mae Paner in real life – was indeed seething about the current jockeying for position and influence by traditional politicians.

"I did not invest my blood, sweat and tears para trapo ang ma-appoint. Those surrounding Noynoy, most of them are sipsip," Paner told GMANews.TV over the phone. She, however, declined to identify anyone.

At the height of the campaign season last March, she resigned from the Noynoy camp, saying those running it did not fit the anti-traditional politics she and other artists were advocating.

Breaking into tears, she described the difficulties she encountered while campaigning for Aquino during the Liberal Party's provincial sorties.

"Noong sumama ako sa mga sorties, actually doon lumalabas ang mga problema. Yung mga trapo nag-gigitgitan, yung mga nakadikit kay Noynoy. So na-pressure ako. Ito ba ang pinasok ko? Parang pinagsisilbihan ko ay sandamakmak na trapo," she said.

She bemoans that she, like other volunteers, was eventually ignored and looked down upon -- lending credence to de Quiros’ description of volunteers who were "alienated and ejected like flotsam."

"Para kaming nasa doghouse, naisasantabi, naisasalya," she cried, adding that she never asked for anything in return while the supposed "trapos" got compensation and the credit for the successes in the campaign.

People's campaign

Paner was an anti-Marcos activist and has been in the advertising industry for more than two decades, directing and acting in commercials. She is also part of the Philippine Educational Theater Association or PETA, known for its politically tinged productions.

When whistleblower Rodolfo "Jun" Lozada exposed First Gentleman Jose Miguel Arroyo's alleged involvement in the purportedly graft-tainted National Broadband Network deal in 2008, Paner's sense of nationalism was stirred.

Months later, she and her colleagues formed a group that produced videos parodying ills in Philippine society and politics. As a theater actress, Paner found herself at the forefront as the character "Juana Change."

Her videos became online sensations and she became a fixture at gatherings of civil society groups and major political rallies. Paner and her group did not support a presidential candidate (one of her spiels was titled NOTA, to indicate None of the Above were qualified as presidents), until Sen. Manuel Roxas II passed the torch to Aquino as the Liberal Party's presidential bet.

"We (her group) felt there was a collective intelligence that seemed to be guiding the decision [for Aquino to seek the presidency]. I felt good about Noynoy, like he seemed to be the right choice," she said.

Paner said she agreed to volunteer for Aquino because she thought it was a "people-run" campaign, since it was the people who clamored for him to run for president. It was this amorphous entity referred to as “the people" that provided the campaign with its numbers, energy, and claims to being a movement. But there was never an ideology or set of principles tying volunteers together, aside from vague vows to fight corruption.

When she joined campaign activities, Paner did not like what she saw.

"I was asserting that this should be about the people. Si Noy ang boses ng tao. Pero [sa kampanya], kaming mga creatives, hindi namin ma-take yung mga pinagsasabi nila [sa campaign speeches]," she said.

Even after she stopped gracing Aquino’s rallies, however, she remained a staunch supporter of the presidential front runner.

In his Philippine Daily Inquirer column last May 17, De Quiros wrote about the bitter disagreements between volunteer groups and the Liberal Party, the Hyatt 10 (former Cabinet members of the Arroyo administration), and The Firm ( one of the country's high-profile law firms).

"The people around Noynoy they alienated, pissed off and ejected like flotsam were the volunteer groups," he said.

A day later, he wrote:

"The Noynoy campaign began not with the Liberal Party, the Hyatt 10 and the Firm but with the volunteer groups. It succeeded not because of the Liberal Party, the Hyatt 10 and the Firm but because of the volunteer groups. Noynoy’s government should begin not with the Liberal Party, the Hyatt 10 and the Firm but with the volunteer groups. It should succeed not because of the Liberal Party, the Hyatt 10 and the Firm but because of the volunteer groups."

But insiders in the Noynoy-Mar campaign disagree.

An LP staff member who declined to be named said some volunteer groups were "unruly" and "disorganized," even as he underscored their contributions to the campaign.

Another campaign insider who asked to remain anonymous said volunteers were not really ostracized during campaign activities. "They probably felt they receded into the background during provincial sorties, where local officials make overtures to Noynoy and hog public attention," he said.

Volunteers like Mae Paner aka Juana Change may have given the campaign its foot soldiers and enthusiasm, but some political observers opine that their spontaneity must be harnessed to a disciplined organization for it to have any future influence over policy.

Eleanor Dionisio of the Ateneo Center for Social Policy and Public Affairs took De Quiros to task for invoking "the episodic, uninstitutionalized, voluntaristic politics of EDSA as the democratic ideal."

"But apart from unity against corruption, Noynoy's Yellow Forces are a cacophony of conflicting interests, without any party discipline, just as it was the movement that brought his mother to power," Dioniosio wrote in her letter to the Inquirer which was circulated through Facebook.

Despite the letdown and intrigues creeping into the crowd around Aquino, Juana Change has not lost her optimism and still counts herself as a grunt in the Yellow Army. In a recent statement on her Facebook fan page, she wrote: "Maniwala ka, may mga marangal pa rin sa hanay natin." – With Howie Severino, GMANews.TV

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