By Leslie Ann Aquino
An official of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines Episcopal Commission on Prison Pastoral Care (CBCP-ECPPC) lauded the Senate for passing on third and final reading the Community Service Act bill, which seeks to decongest the country’s jails by authorizing the court to require community service instead of jail terms for minor offenses.
ECPPC Executive Secretary Rodolfo Diamante said the new measure was laudable as church officials have long been advocating for alternatives to imprisonment.
“We laud this act of the Senate,” he said in an interview.
“The United Nations had urged its member countries since 1990 to consider non-custodial measures in the treatment of offenders. This is known as the Tokyo Rules that seeks alternatives to imprisonment like Community Service, work and study furlough,” Diamante added.
“The CBCP-ECPPC has been advocating the adoption of this measure as part of its campaign for Restorative Justice or Justice that Heals,” he said.
The CBCP official, however, expressed hope that the House of Representatives and President Duterte would do the same thing.
“We pray that the House and the President will follow the move of the Senate,” said Diamante.
Under Senate Bill No. 2195, the court may require a defendant to render community service for as long as the offense is punishable by arresto menor and arresto mayor.
Based on the Revised Penal Code, offenders who are meted 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.
It further states that defendants shall render community service in the place where the crime was committed, 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).
Senator Richard Gordon, chair of the Senate Committee on Justice and Human Rights, and sponsor of the measure, said this will give the defendants “a chance to change, rehabilitate and reintegrate themselves into the community.”
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.
According to Gordon, 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 measure was approved on Monday, June 3.