"Planking" during a student demonstration in Manila, September 23. Photo published by hazelwinx on Twitter.
An unusual form of protest is sweeping the Philippines. Demonstrators gather in a specific location, and lie face down on the floor with their arms by their sides. It’s a way to get political messages across, and it appears to be working – one congressman has already called for “planking” to be banned.
Some people “plank” for fun, but for several months now students have been using planking as a means to oppose budget cuts in the education sector. On July 19, students from the University of the Philippines organised a planking session to protest against these proposed cuts. The craze caught on and two months later another group of “plankers” lay down on the streets of the capital Manila, this time to protest rising fuel prices.
Congressman Winston Castelo hasn’t taken kindly to the trend. On September 20 he announced his intention to introduce the “Anti-planking Act of 2011”. Castelo expressed fears for the safety of plankers and said such acts are “dangerous for the future” of the country. Police in Manila have thrown their weight behind Castelo’s proposal saying all planking demonstrations will be stopped, and participants will be arrested.
“We ‘planked’ in front of the congressman’s office”
Carla (pseudonym) lives in Manila. She participated in a planking session in front of the office of Congressman Winston Castelo.
Winston Castelo’s statement shocked us. How can a congressman create legislation on the way people protest? For us, it goes against the constitution because it attacks our freedom of expression. If the law passes, it would be difficult to keep people from lying down, so I think the law would be impossible to implement. In any case I think members of parliament have much more important problems to focus on, such as education or poverty.
Three friends and I decided to show how absurd Castelo’s proposal is. We said to ourselves, ‘let’s plank outside Castelo’s office to make our point.’ I know people who work in parliament, so we managed to get into the building.
Once it was dark, and everyone had left, we took photos of ourselves planking in different places around the building. I later posted the photos on my blog. They were picked up by people on the internet, and then by television networks. At first we were a bit scared about what might happen to us. But because the law doesn’t have the support of the public or the president of the House of Representatives, we figured nothing that bad could happen.
“Planking in itself is useless. But the protests have managed to give it meaning”
The majority of Filipinos are against the law, and a number of critics sprung up on the internet after Castelo’s announcement. The argument that planking puts students' lives in danger is absurd. We always plank in groups and know very well what is dangerous and what is not. And we are not alone in opposing the law. More planking sessions against budget cuts in education took place across the country on September 23.
Now we’re expecting parliament to withdraw the proposed legislation. On September 26, parliament published a press release saying it would like to increase subsidies in the education sector. It's one way to make amends for alienating young people, in particular students.
Planking in itself is useless. It's a game, a way to have fun. But the protests have managed to give it meaning. This law is grotesque because it attacks planking as a form of protest. Everyone should be happy that it is used to mobilize people and support causes."
Post written with FRANCE 24 journalist Cécile Loïal.