MANILA, PHILIPPINES — You might have heard of Mae Paner. You might have even seen her. Just last year, she went viral because she dressed up as ‘Debold Sinas at his mañanita’ and ‘Harry Roque alongside dolphins’ in the rallies she attended at UP Diliman. The looks were so iconic that she made headlines on various news sites for it.
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Also known as Juana Change, Paner has been an activist as early as the 1980s. It was in theater that she was politicized as she marched with her theater colleagues to protest Marcos’s rule. She is known to use her art to make a statement, which is why one of her more recent performances is a one-act play that sheds light on the war on drugs in the Philippines.
But aside from being a political satirist and known activist in the Philippines, there is a lot more to praise Paner for.
Her Past Life as an Adwoman
Because of her background in theater, Motion Grafix, a production house, got her as a talent way back in 1984. She was taken in to play the role of ‘Shell’, the enemy of the production house’s client Petron. After the shoot, she was then offered a job as a Production Assistant because of her background as a Stage Manager for the Philippine Educational Theater Association (PETA).
While Paner has long let go of her job in advertising, she rose through the ranks during her time in the industry — starting as a Production Assistant then rising to become a Director. She also became a Partner for production companies Electromedia and Click Digital Post.
Paner admitted that advertising gave her a good life. A great one, in fact, because aside from being exposed to brilliant minds and creative processes, she was able to
provide for her family as well.
“But while the money was pouring in advertising, I felt that I allowed it to separate me from what is really important my core,” Paner shares. “…I knew at some point that advertising’s ‘aspirational’ brand of communicating did not represent my core values anymore.”
But during her time in advertising, Paner loved doing public service ads. She fondly remembers an ad she directed for the Child Rights Center, which won Best Public Service Ad of the Year.
“I still remember the tag line,” she says. “What you see is a criminal, what you don’t see is the child!’”
Becoming a Woman for Others
From Paner’s activist spirit to her preference for public service ads, one can see what’s really important to her core: helping those in need.
This is why last year, Paner started a feeding program called KAWA Pilipinas.
“Our goal was to feed our BELOVEDS — the homeless, persons deprived of liberty (PDL), survivors of natural or man-made disasters, and the urban poor communities,” Paner shared. “They are more afraid of hunger than they are of COVID-19!”
When asked about her reason for starting KAWA Pilipinas, Paner answers easily: “I love to cook. I love to serve. I have space. I have time. As a responsible and concerned citizen, I can help our government by doing my share.”
But when she first started the feeding program, Paner had to use money from her own pocket. There were only five of them at first, and they cooked and packed the meals from Paner’s garage.
However, it wasn’t long before the number of volunteers ballooned to over 50. If before she and her co-founders had to pay for everything themselves, now they have people and foundations who donate to their cause.
Even those living in different parts of the world were reaching out to them. And now, they were operating from a much bigger kitchen because the nuns of the Oblates of the Most Holy Rosary welcomed them into their home.
“Sabi nga sa Field of Dreams ni Kevin Costner, ‘If you build it, they will come!’ And they sure did!”
It hasn’t even been a year since Paner started KAWA Pilipinas, but the future is bright for her feeding program.
“We’d like to elevate KAWA Pilipinas from a mom and pop type to a legitimate entity,” Paner shared. “Through our kitchen, we want ‘those who have’ to give to ‘those who have nothing.”
Mae Paner wears many hats: she’s an activist, an artist, an adwoman, and a good samaritan.
Last but not least, she is an inspiration to all women out there.