Senate approves bill allowing community service for minor offenses

MANILA, Philippines – The Senate on Monday, June 3, passed on 3rd and final reading a bill seeking to decongest the country's jails by authorizing the court to require community service for minor offenses.

Voting 19-0, senators approved Senate Bill 2195 or the Community Service Act, which amends the Revised Penal Code (RPC). The House of Representatives earlier approved a counterpart measure in 2016.

Under the RPC, offenders who are meted arresto mayor must serve a jail term of one month and one day to 6 months, while those who are punished with arresto menor must complete one day to 30 days in jail.

If the bill is passed into law, the court may require a defendant to render community service for as long as the offense is punishable by arresto menor and arresto mayor.

Senate justice committee chairperson Richard Gordon, sponsor of the bill, hailed the passage of the measure, saying the Philippines has the "world's second highest most overcrowded prison in the world, next to Haiti."

"[They have] a chance to change, rehabilitate, and reintegrate themselves into the community," Gordon said in a statement.

Under the bill, defendants shall render community service in the place where the crime was committed. They shall be placed under the supervision of a probation officer, and must also undergo counseling.

Upon the completion of community service, the court shall then order the defendant's release unless there is a need for detention for some other crime.

If the defendant violates the terms of community service, the court is authorized to order his or her rearrest.

The defendant shall then serve the full time of penalty in jail. The community service privilege may only be availed of once, Gordon said, to ensure that it will not be abused. –

Camille Elemia

Camille Elemia is a multimedia reporter focusing on media, technology, and disinformation.