16th Apr 2013

self defense

Not all acts constitute crimes. A person who is defending himself, family or property cannot be held criminally liable.  Article 11 of the Revised Penal provides for justifying circumstances whereby the person is said to be acting in accordance with law such as self-defense

Art. 11. Justifying circumstances. — The following do not incur any criminal liability:

1. Anyone who acts in defense of his person or rights, provided that the following circumstances concur;

First. Unlawful aggression.
Second. Reasonable necessity of the means employed to prevent or repel it.
Third. Lack of sufficient provocation on the part of the person defending himself.

2. Any one who acts in defense of the person or rights of his spouse, ascendants, descendants, or legitimate, natural or adopted brothers or sisters, or his relatives by affinity in the same degrees and those consanguinity within the fourth civil degree, provided that the first and second requisites prescribed in the next preceding circumstance are present, and the further requisite, in case the provocation was given by the person attacked, that the one making defense had no part therein.

3. Anyone who acts in defense of the person or rights of a stranger, provided that the first and second requisites mentioned in the first circumstance of this Art. are present and that the person defending be not induced by revenge, resentment, or other evil motive.
x x x

Please note that this includes defense of person or rights. It may also refer to defense of chastity wherein a woman is justified in hitting a man who placed his hand on a woman’s upper thigh.  There may also be defense of property or home such that a person is within his legal right to protect himself from trespassers to his property.

In order to invoke self-defense, certain conditions must be met such as unlawful aggression, reasonable necessity of the means employed to prevent or repel it, and lack of sufficient provocation on the part of the person defending himself.

Anent the 1st element, the aggression must be unlawful. The fulfillment of a duty or exercise of a right may be aggression but it is NOT unlawful. For example, if a policeman threw rocks at the accused who was fleeing the crime scene, it cannot be said that the aggression was unlawful. In addition, forcibly pushing the strikers or picketers to let the company trucks enter the compound is NOT unlawful aggression.

There is unlawful aggression when there is peril to one’s life or person. There must be actual and imminent physical force or actual use of a weapon. In a Supreme Court case, a man was acquitted due to self-defense.  In the said case, the accused was holding down the deceased because the latter was attempting the stab him.  When the accused tried to wrest the knife, the deceased suddenly pressed into a tree thereby allowing the knife to puncture his body.  This resulted in his death but the accused was held NOT criminally liable because of self-defense. There is also a valid self-defense, if the aggressor used a toy pistol in threatening the accused, but the accused thought that it was a real gun.

A mere push or shove, not followed by other acts, is NOT unlawful aggression. A playful kick at the foot by way of greeting, although it may hurt, is not unlawful aggression. Furthermore, there is no unlawful aggression by mere threatening attitude as when someone is hurling insults while holding a knife.

It must be borne in mind that when the aggressor flees, there is no more unlawful aggression. Consequently, when the aggressor ceases the violence and flees, yet the victim pursues him and inflicts violent on the aggressor, the victim cannot claim self-defense.

If there is an agreement to a fight, either party cannot claim self-defense. However, it must be emphasized that the challenge to the fight must be accepted. If the deceased challenged the accused to the fight, but before the latter can accept, the former lunged at the latter, then the accused can raise self-defense if the deceased was stabbed in the process. Interestingly, if the aggression was done ahead of the stipulated time and place, then self-defense can be raised.

Moving on the second element, there must be reasonable necessity of the means employed to prevent or repel the unlawful aggression. Thus, there must be necessity of the course of action AND necessity of the means used.

The necessity of the course of action will depend on the surrounding circumstances. Thus, if in the dark of night and in an uninhabited place, the deceased suddenly grabbed the accused and uttered “give me your money or you will die” and subsequently, the accused fought back with a knife thereby killing the deceased, there is lawful self-defense, even if the deceased later turned out to be accused’s friend playing a practical joke.

In repelling or preventing an unlawful aggression, the one defending must aim at the aggressor and not indiscriminately to others. Therefore, if the accused was being bludgeoned by a bolo inside a house with many people, and in defending himself, the accused indiscriminately fired his revolver around the house, hitting innocent people, it cannot be said that there was self-defense.

It is important to note that there is necessity of the means used. The means used to defend oneself must be commensurate to the unlawful aggression. Hence, stabbing a person who was merely giving fist blows cannot constitute self-defense. Furthermore, a woman who stabbed a man in the neck while in church filled with people because the man grabbed the woman’s thigh cannot utilize self-defense.

The nature of the weapons will also be considered. If a person was advancing towards the accused with a bolo, the accused was justified in shooting the man. However, the use of a bayonet against a cane is not considered as reasonable. Furthermore, the physical condition and size of the aggressor will also be considered. If the aggressor was large, strong and of violent character, a smaller man was justified in stabbing the aggressor with a bolo, even if the larger man was only using fist blows.

Finally, as to the third requisite, there must be lack of sufficient provocation on the part of the person defending himself. This element is not present in the defense of relatives (the one defended can be the source of provocation, but the one defended cannot be the source of provocation) and defense of strangers (the third element is replaced by the condition that the person defending be not induced by revenge, resentment, or other evil motive).

This element simply means that the one defending himself must not have given cause for the aggression by his unjust conduct or by inciting the assailant. To elaborate further, the third element is not satisfied, if there is no provocation at all was given to the aggressor by the person defending himself, when, even if a provocation was give, if was not sufficient or when, even if the provocation was sufficient, it was not given by the person defending himself.

Nicolas & De Vega Law Offices is a full service law firm in the Philippines. You may visit us at the 16th Flr., Suite 1607 AIC Burgundy Empire Tower, ADB Ave., Ortigas Center, 1605 Pasig City, Metro Manila, Philippines. You may also call us at +632 4706126+632 4706130+632 4016392.

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