Published 9 September 2019, The Daily Tribune

Last 8 August 2019, President Duterte signed the Community Service Act (Republic Act No. 11362) allowing courts to impose community service as penalty for minor offenses punishable by arresto menor and arresto mayor, in lieu of imprisonment.

Under the Revised Penal Code, the duration of the penalty of arresto mayor is imprisonment of one month and one day to six months while arresto menor has a duration of one day to thirty days’ imprisonment (Article 27, Act No. 3815). Offenses punishable by arresto mayor and menor include alarms and scandal, malicious mischief, offending religious feelings, unjust vexation, using false certificates, slight physical injuries, among others.

Under the new law, the community service must be rendered in the place of the commission of the crime, under such terms which the court may determine, taking into consideration the gravity of the offense and the circumstances of the case. Just like probationers or persons under probation, the defendant imposed with a penalty of community service shall be under the supervision of a probation officer who shall be responsible for the former.

The new law also requires the court imposing community service as penalty to issue an Order to that effect and specify therein the number of hours worked and the period within which the defendant shall complete the service.

Apart from doing community service, the defendant shall also be required to undergo a rehabilitative counseling with the assistance of Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD).

The new law, however,  should not be taken as an unbridled license to commit minor offenses. Neither does it intend to mitigate  the seriousness of the consequences of  said offenses. In fact, R.A. No. 11362 clearly states that the imposition of such penalty is still within the discretion of the court. Therefore, the penalty of community service is not automatic and is merely a privilege since the offender cannot choose it over imprisonment as a matter of right. Further, the law mandates that the court shall, in requiring community service, consider the welfare of the society and the reasonable probability that the person sentenced shall not violate the law while rendering the service. Lastly, the new law expressly provides that such privilege can only be availed of once.

A defendant who violates the terms of community service shall be ordered re-arrested by the court and the defendant shall serve the full term of the penalty, in jail, or in the house of the defendant himself, under the surveillance of an officer of the law, when the court so provides in its decision, taking into consideration the health of the offender and other reasons which may seem satisfactory to it, in accordance with Article 88 of the Revised Penal Code. On the other hand, if the defendant has fully complied with the terms of community service, the court shall order his release unless he is detained for some other offense.

The implementation of the said law shall await the implementing rules and regulations (IRR) to be issued by the Department of Justice (DOJ) and DSWD within ninety (90) days from its effectivity (Section 4, R.A. No. 11362).

It is expected that with the enactment of this law, the State’s policy to promote restorative justice and to decongest jails will be achieved, apart from the law’s objective to improve public work participation and promote public service.

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