The Senate passed on third and final reading a bill seeking to decongest the country’s jails by authorizing courts to require community service instead of jail terms for minor offenses.

Senator Dick Gordon, chair of the Senate Committee on Justice and Human Rights, and sponsor of the bill, cited the timeliness of the measure’s approval, considering that the country’s jail congestion rate is at 436 percent “making it the world’s second highest most overcrowded prison in the world, next to Haiti.”

“The country’s jail congestion rate is at 436 percent.”

Senate Bill No. (SBN) 2195 or the proposed Community Service Act, substitutes SBNs 590, 1448, and 1452 authored by Senators Antonio Trillanes IV, Sonny Angara and JV Ejercito, and Gordon, respectively.

Under the measure, the court may require a defendant to render community service for as long as the offense committed is punishable by arresto menor and arresto mayor.

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

The measure further states that defendants shall render community service in the area where the crime was committed. They shall be placed under the supervision of a probation officer, and must also undergo counseling under the social welfare and development officer assigned by the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD).

This will give the defendants “a chance to change, rehabilitate and reintegrate themselves into the community,” the seasoned legislator said.

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, meanwhile, violates the terms of his or her community service, the court is authorized to order his or her re-arrest. The defendant shall then serve the full time of his or her penalty in jail, or at home under the watch of an officer of the law as provided in Article 88 of the Revised Penal Code.

“If he violates the terms of community service, the court shall order his re-arrest and the defendant shall serve the full term of the penalty, as the case may be, in jail,” the veteran lawmaker said.

“If he violates the terms of community service, the court shall order his re-arrest.”

The community service privilege may only be availed of once, to ensure that it will not be abused, the senator added.


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