59 suspected Maute recruits released

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, September 1) — The Department of Justice (DOJ) on Friday ordered the release of 59 people, supposedly sent as reinforcements to the Maute group battling government forces in Marawi City.

Justice Undersecretary Erickson Balmes said there was a lack of evidence to prove the rebellion charges.

"The DOJ will not be a part of any injustice. If in the assessment of our Panel of Prosecutors there is no basis to charge a person in court, such a finding should be respected," Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre said in a statement.

Justice Undersecretary Antonio Kho said the panel members who signed the resolution were prosecutors Peter Ong, Sonny Ocampo, and Aris Reyes.

The suspects were arrested following arrest orders issued after the declaration of martial law in Mindanao.

On Friday morning, they were flown to Manila from Zamboanga City, where they were held for questioning on July 25, the military's Western Mindanao Command (WesMinCom) said.

Of the 59 men, 32 were taken from a house in Guiwan, Zamboanga City while 27 were arrested at a military checkpoint in Ipil, Zamboanga Sibugay last July.

Related: DOJ probes 59 alleged Maute recruits

In three counter-affidavits submitted to the DOJ on Aug. 14, the suspects said they were on the way to Camp Jabal Nur in Lanao del Sur to train as members of Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF), and later join the Armed Forces of the Philippines.

They added they were recruited by their co-accused, Nur Sufian. Those arrested in Zamboanga Sibugay said they even paid Sufian P1,500.

Presidential Peace Adviser Jesus Dureza previously said there is no ongoing "integration" arrangement between the government and the MNLF or any group or faction.

MNLF leader Yusoph Jikiri had denied links to the arrested individuals and warned the public against scammers using the name of the MNLF.

WesMinCom commander Lt. Gen. Carlito Galvez, Jr. earlier said martial law allowed the military to "validly restrict and effect arrests of suspicious persons and unscrupulous groups whose actions bear with the rebellion."

The martial law in Mindanao, which began in May after fighting broke out between government forces and Maute fighters in Marawi, is expected to last until Dec. 31, following an extension from both houses of Congress.

CNN Philippines Correspondents Gerg Cahiles and Anjo Alimario contributed to this report.