• One can claim self-defense only under specific circumstances

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    Persida Acosta

    Persida Acosta

    Dear PAO,
    My wife and I live in a chaotic neighborhood where crimes are unusually high these days. This bothers me a lot since I am an OFW, and I am usually out of the country and therefore my wife is almost always left alone in our house. I got her a handy double- bladed knife that she can use to defend herself if anything bad happens to her in our house. Because of this I am curious to know if an untoward incident occurred wherein someone trespassed in our house and made an attempt against my wife and as a result that violator was injured or even killed by my wife, could we properly claim self-defense to absolve us of any criminal liability?
    Joe

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    Dear Joe,
    While self-defense is a legally recognized justification for committing an act that would ordinarily be considered as a crime such as killing or injuring a person, you should know that the law requires the presence of specific circumstances before it can be availed of as a proper legal defense. The Revised Penal Code of the Philippines (RPC) provides that:
    “Art. 11. Justifying circumstances. – The following do not incur any criminal liability:

    1.    Anyone who acts in defense of his person or rights, provided 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.”

    First, one of the circumstances that is required to be present to avail the defense of self-defense is the presence of unlawful aggression. The Supreme Court elaborated on this matter in one of its decisions, which states that:|

    “A person who invokes self-defense has the burden of proof of proving all the elements. However, the most important among all the elements is the element of unlawful aggression. Unlawful aggression must be proved first in order for self-defense to be successfully pleaded, whether complete or incomplete. As this court said in People v. Catbagan, “There can be no self-defense, whether complete or incomplete, unless the victim had committed unlawful aggression against the person who resorted to self-defense.”

    xxx xxx xxx

    Unlawful aggression is an actual physical assault, or at least a threat to inflict real imminent injury, upon a person. In case of threat, it must be offensive and strong, positively showing the wrongful intent to cause injury. It “presupposes actual, sudden, unexpected or imminent danger–not merely threatening and intimidating action.” It is present “only when the one attacked faces real and immediate threat to one’s life” (People of the Philippines vs. Dolorido, G.R. No. 191721, January 12, 2011).

    Second, the requirement of reasonable necessity of the means used to defend one’s self from an unlawful aggression entails the use of reasonable means of self- defense that is commensurate to the nature and the extent of the attack sought to be averted (People of the Philippines vs. Escarlos, G.R. No. 148912, September 10, 2003). And whether the means employed is reasonable depends on the nature and quality of the weapon used by the aggressor, his physical condition, character, size and other circumstances, and those of the person defending himself, and also the place and the occasion of the assault (J.B.L.
    Reyes, The Revised Penal Code, 2008 ed., p. 180). This means that the determination of reasonableness of the means employed for self-defense relies on the appreciation of the facts surrounding that incident that required the use of self-defense.

    Third, the law requires that the person claiming self-defense should not have given sufficient provocation for the victim to attack or commit aggression against the former. Once all of these are proven before the court, then you and your wife may use self-defense as a legal justification to avoid criminal liability.

    To summarize, to be able to successfully invoke self-defense, your wife must have been the subject of a real and imminent threat, which represents the unlawful aggression made upon her. There must also be reasonableness in her use of a knife or any other weapon as her means to defend herself. And finally, there should be no provocation on her part that caused her aggressor to harm her.

    Again, we find it necessary to mention that this opinion is solely based on the facts you have narrated and our appreciation of the same. The opinion may vary when the facts are changed or elaborated.

    We hope that we were able to enlighten you on the matter.
    Editor’s note: Dear PAO is a daily column of the Public Attorney’s Office. Questions for Chief Acosta may be sent to dearpao@manilatimes.net

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