Dr. Antonio Contreras is no stranger to controversy. These days, he is most known for actively sharing his opinions on varying political issues through his Facebook account. Whether it is comparing two typhoons and their corresponding wind speed and fatalities based on the president at the time and nothing less, or shaming a student whose offensive placard was filled with personal attacks, his opinions elicit agreement and awe from many, and opposition and argument from many still—an example of the latter being a change.org petition filed for the DLSU administration to take action against him, with over 2,000 supporters as of press time.
He is famous—or infamous, depending on who you ask—and one might think his life is chaotic, but on the evening of June 6, we find Dr. Contreras in the stillness and quiet of his office on the fourth floor of the faculty center.
Although seemingly hardboiled on the surface, he looks content and relaxed. And for a busy man (every now and then his phone would ring and he’d excuse himself), he kindly gives us the time of day and willingly receives us for an interview that almost lasts two hours.
We spend the majority of that time probing him and discussing his opinions—most of which, we disagree with—and find a man never afraid to speak his mind.
“I make sure that when I open my mouth or post on Facebook, I am sure. I rarely take back my word.”
To post on Facebook only when you are certain is a bold claim to make for a man who posts on Facebook several times a day. But Dr. Contreras is nothing if not bold, and he possesses the utmost confidence in himself and in the things he says. It’s clear that this is a man who does not often believe he is wrong—as he mentions, he rarely takes back his word. It’s this bravado that lead many of his supporters to admire him, and many others to refer to him as arrogant. “I don’t enter a fight [unprepared],” he comments. “So I know when I say something, it’s backed up by data.”
We discuss the issue of him and his colleague accusing Vice President Leni Robredo of cheating during the 2016 national elections, the issue that initially thrust him into the spotlight. “That’s true, the Liberal Party cheated for Miss Robredo,” he comments matter-of-factly, without a tinge of doubt in his voice.
We ask him how he reacted to the multitude of students, professors, and data analysts who contested their claims, presenting various forms of analyses debunking their argument. “I didn’t care because I wasn’t even reading them, I can only read the posts of my friends. There’s no point in arguing with people who cannot change their minds.”
“I’m the highest ranked full professor in the College of Liberal Arts, so you know DLSU wouldn’t promote me to full professor 10 if I’m a so-so academic,” he responds to accusations hurled against him. “I became Dean of [CLA], it’s the most difficult college to run. I’m a veteran when it comes to being challenged and insulted, so for me, I don’t really care.”
An impressive resume doesn’t make one immune to criticism, though. It’s here when we begin to see how, after being on the receiving end of so many scathing remarks from strangers over the years, he shuts out the trolls and haters, weary of the strangers who insult and demean him over social media. “I don’t pay attention to those things, it’s a waste of time, it’s not productive. Mapapagod din yang mga yan.”
But not everyone who disagrees with him is a troll, we contest. Many statisticians and experts presented their arguments against his claims respectfully and fairly. Why shut them out as well? “I read (the posts) and it didn’t convince me because they were using some mathematical analysis that’s not even applicable,” he states.
He presses on that the people who challenged him were not objective people, but were partisans instead because they voted for Leni. “If you voted for the woman, what’s the point of convincing you that she cheated, or that somebody cheated for her?” he continues. “Our lives will move on.”
It seems a dangerous mindset, to us at least, to avoid those criticizing you by immediately assuming they cannot be convinced. At the same time, it seems ironic, as Dr. Contreras himself admits that he is a man who rarely takes back his words. We begin to ask if there is a possibility that he is creating an echo chamber for himself, an environment that filters out all dissent and criticism, but he cuts us off the moment the words leave our mouth.
“It’s not an echo chamber, because I know there are people who debate with me. [But] I don’t post to argue, I post to lay down an idea. If you don’t like it, then argue with it, but don’t expect that I will reply. If you don’t understand my post, then so be it. Why should I clarify it?”
Two days after the interview, he makes a post on Facebook. He wonders out loud if he is being accused of living in an echo chamber, throwing the question back to a certain Mister and Miss Objective and Unbiased. It was a curious moment—and we jokingly wonder if the post was about us—which would have been especially ironic for a man who prides himself in his bluntness.
“I voted for him (BBM), but I don’t support his father.”
It would be impossible to talk about Leni without delving on the Marcoses. Upon mentioning his support for Bongbong Marcos, Dr. Contreras poses this question to us: “If your father stole money from the office, will you carry that burden? If they say BBM should’ve repudiated the father, that’s a very un-Filipino expectation. Would you disown your father?”
So we ask back, did Bongbong Marcos not benefit from the sins of his father then? Dr. Contreras counters us and says, “If your father stole from his company, wouldn’t you benefit?”
We find ourselves in a tricky situation, caught between wanting to stubbornly push the argument even further, and moving on to the next question. But, as we contemplate this, Dr. Contreras speaks again. “What is the goal here, [for the Marcoses] to say they are sorry? I think apologies are only accepted if it’s sincere, but if it’s not, it’s worse than not saying it at all. Kung hindi sincere, lalaitin niyo pa rin. Hindi na siya rational for me.”
We next ask Dr. Contreras about the martial law victims, when he cuts us off and tells us that he contests the fact that we refer to them as victims in the first place. “They’re warriors, they’re freedom fighters,” he argues. “But what really bothers me is some of them are asking for payment. Ganun na pala yun, pagkakakitaan mo na yung rebellion mo. You got hurt, you rebelled, then now you’re demanding payment.”
He blinks at us. “I lived through it [martial law]. Did you?”
Of course, we say, “No.”
“Why don’t you go to the narratives of those who benefitted, who considered it welcoming? You young people, you have not lived the life in martial law, we are the ones who lived through it,” he simultaneously explains and chastises. “You don’t even believe us because people like me don’t say the narrative you expect because you have been conditioned by your professors and teachers.”
There are a few seconds of awkward silence, and it almost seems like all our arguments are instantly invalidated by our young age. We speak again, just to put a close to the Marcoses, and ask Dr. Contreras what he’d tell the families of the martial law victims or—rather warriors, as he’d prefer—if he had the chance.
“I will tell them, your son or daughter made a choice. We’re sorry you have suffered from it, but at the same time, the state had a right to protect itself. At that time, what your son did was a crime, a crime called rebellion. It may be wrong, it may be right, but we were ruled that time.”
“I don’t admire [Mocha Uson]. I am just amazed how she was able to reinvent herself.”
We bring up another controversial topic—Mocha Uson, who is often put together in the same group as Dr. Contreras, as staunch supporters of the current administration. Dr. Contreras, however, surprises us. “To put it bluntly, I disagree with her appointment as ASEC (Assistant Secretary of the Presidential Communications Operations Office). She can do the same thing she’s been doing without the position, but now that she’s ASEC, we should expect her to be more circumspect and to behave,” he shares.
Dr. Contreras also says that Mocha Uson has a persona which she can’t transcend, and that she’s still living in social media. “Mocha Uson the blogger cannot be Mocha Uson the ASEC. As ASEC, you have ethical standards for public service.” Despite firmly disagreeing with him on almost everything else, we find some common ground on this subject.
Dr. Contreras, despite building a reputation as a fervent supporter of the administration due to his frequent defenses of them, also makes it clear that he is not a total Duterte stooge.
“I criticize. I’m anti-death penalty, I’m [against] lowering the age of criminal liability, I oppose Gina Lopez for secretary. I don’t like his rape jokes,” he clarifies. “The only reason I support him is because he’s a much better alternative than the other side, and in a game like this, you have to choose the lesser evil. An angel is not available, anong magagawa natin?”
While some may say Dr. Contreras is too proud to bend, he maintains that it is just self-respect and pragmatism in terms of time management. “Maybe I’ve reached a point where I’m now an opinion leader,” he muses. “People support my opinion and they’re the ones who argue for me.”
Dr. Contreras. Here is a man who, after having been repeatedly jabbed and flayed in public, has thickened his skin even more as a response. He is unabashed and unapologetic, with what some would call dogged certainty, others would call pigheadedness. But Dr. Contreras doesn’t care about what people think of him, and he will continue to voice out his convictions—controversial and otherwise. He won’t—and will not ever—pay either the trolls or critics any mind. This is a free country, after all.