MANILA — The Supreme Court on Tuesday approved the guidelines for the imposition of community service instead of imprisonment as penalty for minor offenses, a significant development which will take effect on November 2.
High Court magistrates promulgated A.M. No. 20-06-14-SC, which implements Republic Act 11362 or the Community Service Act of 2019 signed by President Rodrigo Duterte into law in August last year.
Under the law, the court may, in its discretion, impose community service instead of jail time for penalties ranging from arresto menor (1 day to 30 days) to arresto mayor (1 month and 1 day to 6 months), subject to certain conditions.
Among the conditions:
- Community service must be rendered in the place where the crime was committed
- It will be subject to the terms determined by the court (including number of hours and period) taking into consideration the gravity of the offense and the circumstances of the case
- It will be under the supervision of a probation officer
- Defendant to undergo rehabilitative counseling under the city/municipality social welfare and development officer
- May be availed of only once
The law defines community service as “any actual physical activity which inculcates civic consciousness, and is intended towards the improvement of a public work or promotion of a public service.”
Violation of the terms of community service could lead to re-arrest and service of the jail time either in prison or at the defendant’s house.
The Supreme Court has yet to release a copy of the guidelines but based on a press release issued by the Court’s Public Information Office, judges are required to inform the accused in open court that they have the option to apply for service of penalty through community service, but this will not be available should they appeal the conviction.
The application must be filed during the period for filing an appeal, which should be resolved within 5 days. The judge is required to hold a hearing to promulgate the ruling on the application.
The court is also duty-bound to notify the barangay or village chairperson or any representative where the crime took place, a representative from the provincial or city probation office and the local government’s social welfare development officer. They may be informed electronically.
The guidelines require judges to resolve the application immediately after the hearing, taking into consideration the gravity of the offense, the circumstances of the case, the welfare of the society and reasonable probability that the accused shall not violate the law while rendering the service.
The court’s order granting or denying the application is not appealable.
The absence of the accused during the hearing may be a ground to deny the application and the issuance of an arrest warrant, except for justified reasons.
Expected to be covered by the guidelines are crimes such as disobedience to summons by a legislative body, resistance and disobedience to a person in authority, alarms and scandals, giving false testimony, gambling, less serious and slight physical injuries, trespass to dwelling, light threats, grave coercion, theft and estafa involving small values, and slander, among others.
The law is intended to promote restorative justice and decongest jails, based on the policy statement under the law.