Invoking self defense


One evening, a family was resting in their home when they heard stones being thrown at their house. The owner of the house recognized the man throwing stones to be his brother-in-law. Thus, the father went outside and asked his brother-in-law to stop throwing stones as he was worried his daughter would get hurt. The brother-in-law’s live-in partner, then began screaming. Worried that the couple would cause trouble, the father told his friend, who was in his house that it would be best to avert the further trouble. The friend, thus, went to the home of the brother-in-law to talk. Instead, the brother-in-law came out of his house with a samurai sword and immediately hacked the friend with it. In the background, the live-in partner was screaming “kill him, kill him!” The assault resulted in the death of the friend.

Nevertheless, the brother-in-law insisted that he was only acting in self-defense. In his version of the story, it was the victim who came to the brother-in-law’s house, throwing stones at the house and challenging him to come out. When the brother-in-law opened the gate to his house, the friend immediately tried to hurt him with a bolo. Only then did he retrieve his samurai sword in his house to protect himself and his partner.

The Regional Trial Court (RTC) found the couple guilty beyond reasonable doubt of murder. It held that the elements of self-defense, specifically unlawful aggression and reasonable necessity of the means employed to repel the aggression, were not established. On appeal, the Supreme Court (SC) agreed with the ruling of the RTC that self-defense could not be appreciated.

First, it reiterated the elements in self-defense –

To successfully invoke the justifying circumstance of self-defense, the following requisites must be present: (1) unlawful aggression; (2) reasonable necessity of the means employed to prevent or repel it; (3) lack of sufficient provocation on the part of the person defending himself.

Unlawful aggression is the indispensable element of self-defense, for if no unlawful aggression attributed to the victim is established, self-defense is unavailing as there is nothing to repel. The unlawful aggression of the victim must put the life and personal safety of the person defending himself in actual peril. A mere threatening or intimidating attitude does not constitute unlawful aggression.

Based on the account of witnesses presented in trial, the SC found that it was actually the brother-in-law who was the unlawful aggressor and not the victim. The act of going to a house and calling out the inhabitants so they can talk cannot be considered unlawful aggression especially when the instigator is unarmed.

The Court further ruled that the second element of self-defense: reasonable necessity of the means employed to prevent or repel it, was grossly disproportionate to the “unlawful aggression” that allegedly took place –

Abacco was violently slain and practically butchered. He suffered multiple blows to the head, neck, arms, and back. The blade of the samurai sword not only sliced through his flesh but penetrated and even exposed his bones.

Based on the evidence, the intent to kill was very evident and the brother-in-law’s actions were not done merely to prevent or repel an attack against him.

Lastly, the Court reminded that when one admits to the killing of a person and anchors his defense on self-defense, the burden to prove by clear and convincing evidence that all the essential elements of self-defense is present shifts to the accused. Otherwise, “his conviction must be upheld and he cannot be exonerated from criminal liability” (People v. Ramos, G.R. No. 190340, 24 July 2013, J. Del Castillo).


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