Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Legal lessons from GMA 7 telenovela “Ikaw Sana”

I love watching local and foreign news programs. Last week while waiting for the 6:30 PM newscasts, I got to watch snippets of episodes of GMA 7 telenovela “Ikaw Sana” starring Jennilyn Mercado, Mark Herras and Pauleen Luna. The scenes involved Jennilyn’s character being sentenced in a criminal case, brought to Davao correctional facility, and acquitted after a new trial (all of these in a week or two of episodes).

What legal lessons can we learn from “Ikaw Sana”?

1. Eliza, the character played by Jennilyn was charged, if I remember correctly, with murder, a non-bailable offense. However, despite the term “non-bailable”, an accused can still file a petition for bail. If the court finds that the evidence of guilt is weak, then bail is granted. This, incidentally, is what happened in the case involving Dennis Roldan.

2. After Eliza was convicted, she asked the character played by Pauleen Luna to file an appeal for her. There are several options for an accused convicted by the court. These are:

  • Appeal to a higher court – if the case originated from the MTC (Municipal or Metropolitan Trial Court), the appeal is to the Regional Trial Court. If the case came from the RTC, then the appeal is to the Court of Appeals. If the conviction involves “reclusion perpetua”, then the case is automatically elevated to the Supreme Court.
  • Motion for modification of judgment of conviction – for example, by reducing the penalty imposed in view of a mitigating circumstance (Rule 120, Section 7) for purposes of applying for probation
  • Motion for reconsideration – pointing out errors of law or fact in the judgment thus giving the court the opportunity to re-examine and correct its decision (Rule 121, Sections 1, 3 and 6)
  • Motion for new trial – based on two grounds: (a) errors of law or irregularities committed during the trial which were prejudicial to the substantial rights of the accused; and (b) new and material evidence which the accused could not with reasonable diligence have discovered and produced at the trial, and which if introduced and admitted, would probably change the judgment (Rule 121, section 2).
(A “motion to reopen” is available only after either or both parties have presented their evidence; if the judgment has already been promulgated, the proper remedy is a motion for reconsideration or new trial).

In “Ikaw Sana” the lawyer for Eliza asked the court for a new trial, saying that a new witness (played by Harlene Bautista, I think) has become available. As the telenovela goes, the court acquitted Jennilyn’s character. But if Eliza has been in jail for several years (since the characters played by Mark and Pauleen already have a child), then the writers of the show had their legal remedy wrong. A motion for new trial is filed within the period for filing an appeal, that is, fifteen days from the time Eliza was found guilty by the court (promulgation is the legal term).

The telenovela also does not provide its viewers with a clear time frame for these events, as to how many months or even weeks passed between them. After the scene where the defense lawyer was asking for a new trial, there was a a commercial break. The next scene showed the judge acquitting Jennilyn’s character. This is very sloppy storytelling; the characters did not also seem to have aged even a little bit.
“Ikaw Sana” with its fast pace can also potentially create a mis-impression in the minds of its viewers. In real life, our judicial system crawls from hearing to hearing, from stage to stage. I can just imagine people thinking, “Bakit sa ‘Ikaw Sana’ ang bilis ng trial. Ang annulment ko, two years na, hindi pa tapos! Palaging reset!”