Community service as a penalty instead of time behind bars for minor offenses may be imposed by courts starting next month, more than a year after the law covering it was passed, the Supreme Court (SC) said on Wednesday.

The SC en banc on Tuesday approved the community service guidelines to promote “restorative justice and jail decongestion.”

In a statement, the SC said guidelines shall take effect on Nov. 2, 2020, after the required publication.

President Rodrigo Duterte on Aug. 8, 2019, signed Republic Act (RA) 13362 or the Community Service Act that authorizes the court, in its discretion, to require community service in lieu of imprisonment for minor offenses.

Under the guidelines contained in A.M. No. 20-06-14-SC, judges concerned, after the promulgation of judgment or order where the imposable penalty for the crime or offense is arresto menor or arresto mayor which prescribes up to six months imprisonment, shall be duty-bound to inform the accused in open court that he or she has an option too, among others, apply that the penalty is served by rendering community service in the place where the crime was committed.

The judge should also explain to the accused, however, that the same will be barred to apply for community service or probation should he or she choose to appeal the conviction.

Application for community service must be filed within the period to perfect an appeal and that the said application shall be resolved within five days from filing thereof. The court should set a hearing to render or promulgate the ruling for this purpose.

Upon receipt of the application for community service, the court shall immediately notify the barangay chairperson or an authorized representative of the barangay where the crime was committed; representative from the provincial or city’s Probation Office; and, local government unit’s Social Welfare Development Officer. The Court may resort to the electronic service of the notices to the said officers.

The court shall resolve the application for community service immediately after the hearing thereon. An order granting or denying the same shall not be appealable. Failure of the accused to appear at the said hearing, except for justified reasons, shall be a ground to deny the application and a warrant of arrest shall be issued against the accused.

The SC held that these should be taken into consideration in allowing community service ─ the gravity of the offense, circumstances of the case, the welfare of the society, and a reasonable probability that the accused shall not violate the law while rendering the service. (PNA)