Still crazy after all these years | Inquirer Opinion
There’s the Rub

Still crazy after all these years

Juana Change’s detractors, who are as legion as her admirers, will not like this, but it’s well past due that I spoke up for her.

I’ve known Juana Change, alias Mae Paner, since the 1990s, though not as closely as I would have wanted to, and have been an admirer of her from when she was doing all those plays for Philippine Educational Theater Association, along with the equally hugely talented Rody Vera. Paner of course has been in the eye of the storm the last few years for her criticism of, or indeed satirical barbs against, P-Noy. Particularly given that she was one of the vigorous campaigners for him in 2010. Whence the detraction comes.


Of course she’s right to say that if you can dish it out, you should be able to take it as well—a principle I hold on too, being engaged in public discourse and having my own share of detractors. It’s part of the territory. Paner herself is more than capable of taking care of herself, past master as she is of thrust-and-parry, but I figure some of the detraction thrown her way needs correcting.

One, is she kulang sa pansin?


That’s the first thing her detractors say about her: She likes to grandstand, draw attention to herself, make a spectacle of herself. Why in God’s name not? She is a theater person, her job is to grandstand, draw attention to things, make a spectacle of herself. More than that, she is a comic, her job is to do all those things in an outsized, outrageous, outlandish way. In that respect, she is no more kulang sa pansin than are Nanette Inventor, Mitch Valdez and Jon Santos.

Maybe she should just stick to the stage and not join marches? Well, it is not her fault that reporters pick her out for comments when she does. And while at that, Paner has been joining or leading rallies far longer than many of her detractors have been in office. And she will be joining and leading rallies far longer than many of her detractors will have been out of office. She was there as far back as Marcos’ time, arrested while rallying in 1984 along with Lino Brocka and Behn Cervantes. Certainly, she was there as far back as Erap’s and Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s time—when many of her detractors were enjoying the comfort, patronage and protection provided by them.

Paner has every right to revel in the title “performance activist;” her stage has always been a larger one than Peta’s. Her theater is the theater of the streets; her theater is the theater of life.

Two, are her criticisms venomous? Do they derive from motives other than principle, or deep-seated beliefs and convictions?

No. She has every right to bristle at the suggestion that she is in the opposition’s payroll. Of course we all have egos, and Paner’s barbs, presented in the form of Juana Change, can be very biting. But why take offense at that? The most tyrannical courts of medieval Europe and Japan—the latter you see in the films of Akira Kurosawa—hired professional jesters to keep their kings grounded in reality. Or more to the point, to mock them or cut them down by jokes, often at risk of the jesters’ necks, to not let power get into their heads.

Indeed, the conquering heroes of Rome had a companion in their chariots continuously whispering in their ears while they traversed the length of the Appian Way, “Remember, all glory is fleeting.” An unenviable job with its guarantee of pissing off conquering heroes and inviting their everlasting enmity.

You need these people. The most benign heads of state need these people, if only to remind them that they are not infallible, they could be wrong. Particularly the most benign heads of a country like ours, and particularly when they have a retinue of sycophants clinging to their robes.


Quite apart from the usefulness of comedy and comics, quite apart from the wisdom of jesters and jests, there is the not very small matter of the democratic process. It’s the nature of the beast. The heart of democracy is dissent, disagreement, differences, and the art of democracy is resolving them not by the force of arms but by the force of reason. “I do not agree with you, but I will defend your right to say it” is the classic way democracy puts it.

Paner is not advocating violence, she is not advocating a coup, she is not advocating destabilization. She is of course part of the group calling for P-Noy’s impeachment. But that is part of her democratic right too. Why treat her as the enemy?

And, finally, is Paner wildly inconsistent or flighty, swinging from one extreme to the other?

Not at all. In fact, she is one of the most consistent persons I know. Her position now, as then, she put very clearly in December 2009 when she complained about how the P-Noy campaign had been hijacked from the volunteers, who had begun it, by the politicians, late of the Mar-for-president campaign, who were now lording over it.

Butch Abad was the convenor and Dinky Soliman the emcee, and they said this being a regular political campaign, the politicians should call the shots. They had a lengthy debate on the point, which showed not just a difference in viewpoint but a difference in worldview. Paner saw the campaign as an untraditional one, which would produce untraditional results, specifically one that would make “people power” in the form of the volunteers a continuing reality. Indeed a new voice in the new government.

Alas, it never happened. The politicians did take over, specifically in the form of Butch Abad, Mar Roxas and Dinky Soliman, and their friends and (in the case of Abad) daughter. And Paner remained out there in the cold, still protesting traditional politics pushing aside “alternative politics,” still bidding government hear the shouts in the streets, still—as Paul Simon puts it—crazy after all these years.

How is she inconsistent?

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TAGS: Butch Abad, Dinky Soliman, Juana Change, Mae Paner, Mar Roxas, Protest, Street Activist
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