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SC wraps up oral arguments on constitutionality of Duterte's drug war

In this Nov. 10, 2016 photo, residents watch as funeral workers carry the body of one of five people killed in an alleged police anti-drug operation in Manila, Philippines. AP/Bullit Marquez, file

MANILA, Philippines — After three days of oral arguments, the Supreme Court has wrapped up its hearing on the consolidated petitions challenging the constitutionality of President Rodrigo Duterte's war on drugs.

Solicitor General Jose Calida was grilled by several justices, including Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno, on the legality of two government memorandum circulars: the Philippine National Police's Oplan Double Barrel and the Department of the Interior and Local Government's Project Masa-Masid.

On Tuesday's hearing, Associate Justice Marvic Leonen quizzed Jose Calida on what kinds of illegal drugs are being monitored by the police.

Calida said the police force is focused on all kinds of drugs. He, however, clarified that methamphetamine hydrochloride or shabu "is the drug choice for the addicts."

Leonen pointed out that among the primary criticisms against the government's war on drugs was its seeming focus on "low lying fruits" or small-time drug peddlers. The same point was earlier raised by Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio.

Caprio asked if the police have killed Chinese and Filipino-Chinese drug lords behind the proliferation of narcotics in the country, as prescribed in the PNP memo circular on Oplan Double Barrel.

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Leonen also asked Calida if there has been a suspect involved in cocaine killed in drug operations. The chief legal counsel said that he has yet to have the data on it, but he is "not ruling out" the possibility.

Leonen proceeded to ask if the police were also focused on drugs being used in other countries such as opioids, which includes oxycontin, and fentanyl.

Duterte earlier admitted to using fentanyl, a potent painkiller. Abuse of fentanyl is noted to be fatal.

Calida replied that he is not adept in the terminology on the kinds of drugs but said that he would break down the types of narcotics the PNP is monitoring in the memorandum he would submit before the court next year.

READ: Duterte brings bank PNP to war on drugs

Increased killings

Leonen, the youngest member of the high court, also pointed out that police records put more than 3,800 deaths under investigation in connection with its campaign against illegal drugs.

"Don't you think that that is something we should worry about regardless of who these people are?" Leonen said.

"That there are with impunity so many people that are killed and that the police, of course, might be investigating them but it worries of course that there is such a break down in law and order," Leonen stressed.

READ: Justices ask: Did Oplan Masa Masid violate any law?

While police estimate more than 3,800 deaths under the bloody drug war, human rights groups put the number of killed at more than 13,000.

The SC gave the two parties 60 days to submit their memorandum and additional information asked by the justices to aid in deciding on the petitions.

This is the first time that Duterte's bloody drug war was brought to the high court. The two groups of petitioners—kin of drug war victims—were represented by Chel Diokno of the Free Legal Assistance Group and Rommel Butuyan of the Center for International Law.

READ: SC petitioners see 'systemic violence' in San Andres killings

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