JUSTICE Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II on Friday refused to heed the request of religious groups to free two clergy members detained for alleged "trumped up" charges in Mindanao.

Earlier in the day, Promotion of Church People's Response (PCPR) and other religious groups trooped to the Department of Justice (DOJ) to call for the dismissal of the charges filed against Bishop Carlo Morales of the Iglesia Filipina Independiente and Pastor Kama Sanong of the Manobo Association of the Evangelical Church.

Morales and Sanong are facing charges for illegal possession of firearms and explosives.

Aguirre said he does not intervene in the cases being handled by his prosecutors.

"Since I assumed stewardship of the DOJ, it has been our adopted policy and practice to give our prosecutors in the field a free hand in the discharge of their functions, particularly in the conduct of preliminary investigations and in the disposal of pending cases," Aguirre said. "That principle will also be observed in the cases referred to in the PCPR letter."

Aguirre said he has ordered the prosecutors handling the complaints against the religious leaders to send him updates.

Morales was arrested at a military checkpoint at Ozamiz City in May while together with a National Democratic Front leader, while Sanong was arrested at his residence in Kalamansig, Sultan Kudarat in July.

Sanong is a member of Lumad group actively defending Lumad's ancestral lands.

PCPR slammed the attacks by the military against the said religious leaders and said it is "beyond justification." (SunStar Philippines)