FORMER Baguio Representative Nicasio Aliping Jr.'s environment case will now be heard in regular courts instead of the graft court.

The Office of the Ombudsman released the decision, dated August 2016, early this month taking the case of the former congressman and contractors William Go, Bernard Capuyan and Romeo Aquino to the regular courts.

The group was slapped with violations of on cutting, removing, gathering or collecting timber from a forest reservation, and unlawful occupation and destruction of forest and grazing lands.

The Ombudsman found merit in Aliping’s arguments the complaint was “cognizable by the regular courts and not by the Sandiganbayan.”

“While the complaint alleges that the acts complained of were committed in relation Aliping’s exercise of official functions, there is evidence that Aliping cut or burned the trees in the performance of his official functions as congressman, which are essentially legislative in character,” the decision stated.

The 2016 case stemmed from the project which is pinpointed to have disturbed the stability of the mountain slope, resulting in massive landslides which are aggravated by the rains, sediments and rocks continuously slide down, causing contamination of the Amliang dams which are being used to impound fresh spring water for distribution to residents of Baguio City and Tuba town.

Petitioners alleged earth-moving activities were approved by Aliping for the opening of a road starting from Mount Kabuyao all the way down to Sitio Amliang and Sitio Bekel of Poblacion, Tuba.

The DENR filed the complaint with the Office of the Ombudsman, arguing that Aliping committed these violations in his capacity as congressman.

But the Ombudsman’s new ruling said there was “no evidence that Aliping cut, uprooted or burned the trees in the performance of his official function as a congressman... being acts done in his personal capacity, any offense arising therefore is outside the jurisdiction of the Sandiganbayan.”

Former Baguio-Benguet Bishop Carlito Cenzon with Archbishop Socrates Villegas of the Lingayen-Dagupan Diocese led the filing of a Writ of Kalikasan to stop activities on the mountain in a bid to stop its deterioration, a Temporary Environment Protection Order (TEPO) to stop road openings and other developments being undertaken at Mount Sto. Tomas watershed.

Aliping said he welcomes the latest decision.

“The case against me is clearly not about graft and corruption and will prove my innocence in due time,” said Aliping.