Political science students know his name—he is, after all, the only professor teaching one of their majors. But recently, his name has become famous (or infamous?), not only within the University, but also around the country, as some of his actions have once again put him in the spotlight. De La Salle University’s own Dr. Antonio Contreras sits down with The Menagerie to tell us of his life, his bet on the 2016 elections, and his say on which students to pick (and avoid).
The analyst’s background
If you’ve heard of Dr. Antonio Contreras as anything other than a professor in DLSU, you might’ve seen him on your TVs or heard him speak on the airwaves as a political analyst. He has been approached by the media several times to give his two cents regarding various political matters, mostly because of two factors: he has plenty of experience and knowledge under his belt, and he’s definitely not afraid to speak his mind.
Dr. Contreras first started teaching in 1982 at the University of the Philippines — Los Baños before going to the United States for his PhD in Political Science, which he earned from the University of Hawaii. About 15 years ago, he became a professor in De La Salle University, and even served as the College of Liberal Arts Dean from 2004 to 2008.
Armed with decades of experience in his field and well-known for his tendency to speak his mind no matter the opposition, Dr. Contreras’ strong opinions attract plenty of attention. In fact, one of his most talked about actions in the past year was his filing a petition to cancel Grace Poe’s Certificate of Candidacy (COC).
On the 2016 elections
With the 2016 elections fast approaching, Dr. Contreras’ ideas are once again being sought after. In fact, right before his interview with The Lasallian, he was sharing his thoughts with a camera crew from GMA. However, it seems selecting a candidate to root for is difficult, even for a man with his background.
In a twist of fate, one of the presidentiables that had Dr. Contreras’ vote years ago is the very person he filed a petition against. Sen. Grace Poe was once someone Dr. Contreras thought had the potential to lead the country, and in the early stages of her political career, Dr. Contreras had a more positive view of her. “She was a fresh face. She wasn’t a traditional politician so I guess I was hoping that she would be different. Also, she was clean. No record of corruption. I knew she didn’t have experience but it doesn’t mean you’re not qualified to be a senator,” he says.
However, Dr. Contreras shares how he began to lose faith in Poe during her time spent as a senator. According to him, the senator had become too reliant on image. Dr. Contreras explains, “Wala siyang track record sa senado. For example, she hasn’t made any ground-shaking legislations. She says she’s pro-child rights and gusto niyang ipaglaban yung kaso ng foundlings, pero wala siyang na-file na bill. Lumabas lang yung issue niya doon kung kalian binabato na sakanya. Kung talagang malapit sa puso mo yan, edi sana pagkaupo mo palang, gumagawa ka na ng bill, diba?” There was also the issue of Poe’s residency, which was the reason Contreras’ filed a petition to cancel her COC last October. With similar petitions also being filed on the issue of her citizenship, Poe was no longer a viable choice in Dr. Contreras’ eyes.
Mar Roxas is also not among those that Dr. Contreras’ is considering voting for. The professor shares that he finds that, “Roxas’s mantra of continuing ang tuwid na daan” could be very problematic. Taking Poe and Roxas out of his options, Dr. Contreras finds that he is still left undecided among the other leading presidentiables of Vice President Jejormar Binay, Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte, or Sen. Miriam Defensor Santiago. According to him, this year’s elections will be especially difficult as he believes that every candidate has a major drawback. “You have to choose your poison. Compromise mo yung human rights and character ni Duterte. Alleged corruption ni Binay. May sakit na si Miriam.” Talking about the coming national elections, the affair is something that he can only describe as depressing.
On picking and avoiding
Besides his immense knowledge of politics, Dr. Contreras also stands out in his overall character as a teacher and educator. A notable example of Dr. Contreras not shying away from giving his opinion is how he put up the student counterpart of the popular Profs to Pick Facebook group.
As upcoming enlistment for the second term of the academic year was approaching, the page was once again lively. It was simple: students giving feedback on professors they’ve had in the past to help out fellow Lasallians decide which classes they wanted to take in the future. But the former College of Liberal Arts Dean began to observe that some reviews were going overboard. “Grabe na kung mag-banat ng professors,” he says, even stating a couple of names used by students to describe their past professors, and shaking his head in disapproval. “Mali yung ethics, mali yung pinapakitang attitude ng isang Lasallian.”
Dr. Contreras recalls his earliest encounter of people giving feedback on their professors. Back when Facebook wasn’t a household term, DLSU professors were evaluated by current and former students on the website pinoyexchange.com. “When I was the dean [back in 2004], it was an opportunity for me to read the feedbacks of students on teachers, although they come anonymously. And there, I already saw some tendencies of students to malign and talk badly about their professors.”
Years later, after what was to him the last straw, he finally made the Facebook page ‘DLSU students to PICK and AVOID’. A number of Lasallians then burst into an uproar, with some students even brave enough to construct long arguments targeted at him and his actions.
But what’s its purpose, really? What’s his motive? “Parang symbolic lang ‘yun,” he shares, with arms crossed. “It’s satirical. Pang-asar, pang-inis. More of… just providing a space to make a point. I did it because no one’s doing it. When you don’t talk about it, then, you just let the abuse happen.”
“I’m a teacher, and I want to teach the students,” he shares. “[To tell the students that] if you know how to give it, you should also know how to take it.”
At the end of the day, despite (and, perhaps, because of) all the controversial things he’s said and done, Dr. Antonio Contreras remains respected by his students. And whether it’s his actions involved in Philippine politics or in the lessons he wants to teach his students, the political analyst will not shy away from doing what he things needs to be done.
Is he a good professor? He sits up straight in his seat, and bravely tells us, “I think I’m a very good professor. You go and ask around.”