The Twitterverse and much of the social networking sites were aflame last week on the subject of the proposed anti-planking law filed by Quezon City congressman Winnie Castelo.

The topic was so hot that at one point, it became the number two trending topic on Twitter worldwide and merited coverage in several primetime TV and radio news programs. Even the Washington Post took notice.

What was all the fuss about?

Planking is the act of making like a plank of wood – face down, hands on the side, horizontal and stiff straight – then having yourself pictured and the image uploaded on the internet for the whole world to marvel or laugh at. The thrill, some say the art, is in planking in the most unusual if not dangerous places – like on the stairs, atop a street sign or billboard, at the edge of a waterfall, in the middle of a highway, or on the ledge of a high rise building. In fact, one or two deaths and a number of accidents have been reportedly caused by extreme planking.

Planking became a craze among young people last year, with some Pinoy afficionados even forming their own Planking Society of the Philippines. Like anything hot on the internet, interest has since faded with the introduction of newer antics like “owling,” where you make like an owl, eyes wide open with body bent and arms folded like wings. There’s also “batmanning,” where one hangs upside down like a… well… a bat. And of course, the classic “jump shot.”

Anyway, what was just an internet fad took on a different dimension two weeks ago when some 20 student activists planked smack in the middle of España Avenue to protest the high price of oil and petroleum products. It was an effective stunt owing to its novelty. Most media outlets reported the incident as a highlight of the protest or as a separate human interest story altogether.

To be sure, lying or sitting down as a form of protest is as old as protesting itself. We did it in EDSA. Urban poor communities do it to stop demolition teams from tearing down their homes. Striking workers often lie at the factory gates to prevent company trucks from entering and exiting the premises. Some said planking is like a “die-in” where activists pretend to die as a form of protest, only this time they fall to the ground face down.

Thus, the students’ use of planking as a form of protest was novel but not unusual, since activists tend to use the latest pop culture to get their message across.

What was unusual, if not wierd, was the proposal to prohibit students from planking as a form of protest. Castelo explained that he was merely concerned about the students’ safety and wanted schools to put the prohibition in their student handbooks.

What is strange though is why he differentiates planking done by protesting students and those done by ordinary, non-political plankers. After all, the inherrent risks of the act – that of being run over by a truck if you do it on the road, or falling to your death if you do it on the ledge of a 20-storey building – are the same for all plankers from across the political spectrum. Why not prohibit planking altogether?

In fact, the planking performed by the student activists last week was too safe by ordinary planking standards – they planked on the road only when the light turned red, with media swarming around them plus marshalls ensuring that no vehicle would pass. In terms of form, planking can be considered pacifist and benign, much like a sit down strike.

But really, how can one prohibit planking? You might as well prohibit students from striking, marching, holding rallies or setting up picketlines. But then again, maybe that was the point.

So what did Rep. Castelo’s proposal boil down to?

Either it was an ill-advised publicity stunt or an insidious scheme to curtail legitimate protest and the right to freedom of expression in our schools. Either way, it sucked big time as shown by the slew of insults and thrash tweets it generated in the traditional and new media.#


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