My neighbor and I had an argument three months ago. We had been in bad terms since then. One day, he tried to enter my property and force his way in. Luckily, the gate was locked at that time. If this happens again, what can I do to fend him off?
Under the law you have the right to protect not only your family, but also your property. Article 429 of the Civil Code states that “the owner or lawful possessor of a thing has the right to exclude any person from the enjoyment and disposal thereof. For this purpose, he may use such force as may be reasonably necessary to repel or prevent an actual or threatened unlawful physical invasion or usurpation of his property.” On the basis of this provision of law, an owner or lawful possessor of a property is authorized to use force to prevent other persons from disturbing his possession over his property. This principle is known as the doctrine of self-help.
Yet, a line should be drawn to define the parameters of the doctrine lest other persons may abuse it and cause harm to others needlessly. Indeed, the doctrine is predicated on the fundamental right of a person to protect his right or property and is not meant to serve as a license to take the law into one’s hand. There are conditions for the doctrine to apply.
First, the force to be used must be reasonable. This means that the force used to repel the aggression must be commensurate with the force used by the aggressor. If the resistance used is disproportionate to the attack/aggression, such that it becomes excessive under the circumstances, the doctrine will not apply to protect a person from criminal liability (People of the Philippines vs. Narvaez, 121 SCRA 389). In such a case, civil liability for damages will also attach.
Second, the attack or aggression must be unlawful. The aggression must not be supported or backed up by law like the principle of self-defense under the Revised Penal Code, or where the other person is merely exercising a legally recognized right. An example of the latter is provided under Article 432 of the Civil Code where interference is necessary to avert an imminent danger and the threatened damage, compared to the damage arising to the owner from the interference, is much greater. Please note however that in such a case, the owner may demand from the person benefited indemnity for the damage to him.
On the basis of the foregoing, it is clear that you have the right to use reasonable force against your neighbor to protect your property should he again try to invade your property. Please be reminded, however, to take note that the force must be commensurate with the aggression. It cannot be so disproportionate as to remove your defensive act outside of the mantle of protection of the doctrine of self-help. For in such a case, you may be criminally and civilly liable.
I hope the foregoing discussion answered your concern. Please bear in mind that this opinion is based on the facts you narrated and our appreciation of the same. Our opinion may vary if actual facts and circumstances change.
Editor’s note: Dear PAO is a daily column of the Public Attorney’s Office. Questions for Chief Acosta may be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org