Senate leaders slam French paper for calling Duterte ‘serial killer’

Camille Elemia
Senate leaders slam French paper for calling Duterte ‘serial killer’
'May pinapunta ba sila [na] investigative reporter dito or they just got it from the internet?' says Senate President Aquilino Pimentel III

MANILA, Philippines – Two of the country’s top Senate officials denounced the headline of a French newspaper tagging President Rodrigo Duterte as a “serial killer” due to the unresolved killings under his administration.

The 4-page Libération article, entitled “Rodrigo Duterte, the serial killer president” in English, mentioned the Davao Death Squad, which allegedly helped Duterte rid Davao City of criminals and rebels.

Senate President Aquilino Pimentel III, Duterte’s partymate in the Partido Demokratiko Pilipino-Lakas ng Bayan (PDP-Laban), cried foul over the “unfair” headline. There was no clear basis for it, he added.

“That’s unfair because did they conduct any in-depth investigative work before they came up with their conclusion? Sana gano’n gawin sa ibang bansa. (I hope that’s what other countries do.) They should follow the Philippine media – before we make unfair headlines, we have investigated,” Pimentel told reporters on Monday, October 10.

“For a French newpaper to label our President as serial killer, ang tanong ko what’s their basis? (My question is, what’s their basis?) May pinapunta ba sila [na] investigative reporter dito or they just got it from the internet? (Did they send an investigative reporter to the Philippines or they just got it from the internet?) I don’t know what made the editor jump to that hasty conclusion. A serial killing president, what is his evidence?” he added.

Senate Majority Leader Vicente Sotto III, for his part, blamed the language barrier as a possible reason for the headline. After all, Sotto said, not all French understand the English language.

“Hindi nakakaintindi ng English. Hindi lahat ng Pranses na diyaryo nakakaintindi ng Ingles,” said Sotto, who added there are more killers in the United States than in the Philippines.

(They don’t understand English. Not all French newspapers can understand English.)

Sotto also said such negative publicity for the President has no implications. In fact, he claimed there are more Duterte supporters now than during the 2016 campaign.

“Wala. Mas marami nga ang following ngayon kaysa ‘yung before the elections eh. Before the elections, the people [who] supported him, hindi ganyan karami. Ngayon, mas marami nang sumusuporta sa kanya. Ngayon pa ba papansinin ‘yan?” he said.

(No implications. He has a bigger following now than before the elections. Before the elections, the people who supported him weren’t that many. Now, there are more supporters. Should we pay attention to negative publicity like that now?)

‘Just ignore it’

Both Pimentel and Sotto said it’s best to ignore such negative news.

Pimentel said it’s beyond the government’s control what foreign media think of the country, citing cultural and traditional differences.

“That’s beyond our control. I would not lose sleep over the coverage of the president in foreign media, that’s beyond our control. Iba po standards nila doon, kultura nila (They have different standards, a different culture there),” Pimentel said.

Sotto shared the same sentiment, saying it would be futile to explain to critics because they won’t listen anyway.

“Oo, better not waste your time on comments of people against you. What do you expect? Kahit anong explanation gawin mo, kahit anong kuwento gawin mo, hindi naman maniniwala sa’yo. In the same way ‘pag naniniwala sa’yo, kahit anong paninira sabihin sa’yo, hindi sila maniniwala,” Sotto said

(Yes, better not waste your time on comments of people against you. What do you expect? No matter what explanation you provide, stories you tell, they won’t believe you. In the same way that when people have faith in you, they won’t believe criticism against you.)

Pimentel maintained the spate of extrajudicial killings cannot be attributed to the President, saying the Senate is still in the process of investigating it.

“Actually, ‘yan na nga ang issue (that’s the issue). There is Resolution No. 9 here to investigate who is or maybe responsible in the unexplained killings. Eh inunahan na tayo ng isang newspaper (But one newspaper preempted us), I don’t know why they are more knowledgeable about happenings in the Philippines than Filipinos themselves. Siguro (Maybe), I don’t know, maybe the paper needed to sell some issues?” Pimentel said.


For Senator Panfilo Lacson, the headline is “exaggerated.” He questioned where the paper got its information.

“I think exaggerated naman ang pag-describe sa kanya na serial killer. Sa akin exaggerated ‘yan. Unang-una, hindi naman siguro direct or personal knowledge ang pinanggalingan ng comment ng French newspaper,” Lacson said.

(I think the description of the President as a serial killer is exaggerated. For me, that’s exaggerated. First of all, the source of the French newspaper’s comment is not direct or personal knowledge.)

He also said it is “unfair” to blame the President for the deaths linked to the war on drugs.

“I think it’s unfair to tag our president as a serial killer. Maski sinong Pilipino, ke bumoto sa kanya ke hindi, hindi naman maganda pakinggan na inaakusahan na serial killer ang ating pangulo, just because 3,000 suspected drug pushers napapatay, so far,” he said.

(I think it’s unfair to tag our president as a serial killer. For Filipinos, whether they voted for him or not, it is not good to hear that the President is accused of being a “serial killer” just because there have been 3,000 suspected drug pushers killed, so far).

Other international news agencies have criticized the spate of extrajudicial killings under the Duterte administration. –

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Camille Elemia

Camille Elemia is Rappler's lead reporter for media, disinformation issues, and democracy. She won an ILO award in 2017. She received the prestigious Fulbright-Hubert Humphrey fellowship in 2019, allowing her to further study media and politics in the US. Email