“Justifying circumstances are those where the act of the person is said to be in accordance with law, so that such person is deemed not to have transgressed the law…” (The Revised Penal Code [R.P.C.], Reyes, 1981).
“There being no crime committed, the persons defending themselves incur no criminal liability” (Article 11, Revised Penal Code).
“An accused who pleads a justifying circumstance… admits to the commission of acts which would otherwise engender criminal liability… [I]n the process of proving justifying circumstance, the accused risks admitting the imputed acts…[c]onviction follows if the evidence for the accused fails to prove the existence of [the] justifying circumstances” (The R.P.C., Reyes, 2021 citing Velasquez v. People).
“Self-defense includes not only the defense of the persons or body of the one assaulted but also that of his rights… which is protected by law. ‘Aside from the right to life on which rests the legitimate defense of our person, we have the right to property…, and the right to honor which is not the least prized of man’s patrimony.’” (The R.P.C., Reyes, 1981 and 2021 citing 1 Viada, 172, 173, 5th Ed.).
Self-defense is lawful “[b]ecause it would be quite impossible for the State in all cases to prevent aggression upon its citizens (and even foreigners, of course) and offer protection to the person unjustly attacked.
“On the other hand, it cannot be conceived that a person should succumb to an unlawful aggression without offering any resistance” (The R.P.C., Reyes, 2021 citing Guevarra).
“Generally, the burden lies upon the prosecution to prove the guilt of the accused beyond reasonable doubt… [W]hen the accused, however, admits killing the victim, it is incumbent upon him to prove any claimed justifying circumstance by clear and convincing evidence” (People v. Samson, G.R. 214883, September 02, 2015).
“To invoke self-defense… it is incumbent upon the accused to prove by clear and convincing evidence… the following requisites under the second paragraph of Article 11 of the RPC, viz: (1) unlawful aggression; (2) reasonable necessity of the means employed to prevent or repel it; and (3) lack of sufficient provocation on the part of the person defending himself” (People v. Samson, G.R. 214883, September 02, 2015).
There can be no self-defense, complete or incomplete, unless the victim has committed unlawful aggression against the person defending himself.
If there is no unlawful aggression, there is nothing to prevent or repel (The R.P.C., Reyes, 2021). If the aforementioned is absent, the second requisite “reasonable necessity of the means employed to prevent or repel it” will not arise.
Unlawful aggression is equivalent to assault or at least threatened assault of an immediate or imminent kind. There must be physical force or actual use of a weapon (The R.P.C., Reyes, 2021 citing People v. Crisostomo) and not merely a threatening or intimidating attitude (The R.P.C., Reyes, 2021 citing People v. Pasco, Jr.).
“It cannot consist [of] oral threats or a merely threatening stance or posture (The R.P.C., Reyes, 2021 citing People v. Lachica). In case of threat, the same must be offensive and positively strong, showing the wrongful intent to cause injury” (The R.P.C., Reyes, 2021 citing U.S. v. Guysayco).
When there is no peril to one’s life, limb, or right, there is no unlawful aggression. Some examples are: (a) insulting words without physical assault; (b) a light push on the head with the hand; (c) a mere push or shove, not followed by other acts; or (d) a playful kick by way of greeting (The R.P.C., Reyes, 2021). However, a slap on the face is an example of unlawful aggression (The R.P.C., Reyes, 2021 citing People v. Sabio).
“Upon the cessation of the unlawful aggression and the danger or risk to life and limb, the necessity for the person invoking self-defense to attack his adversary ceases. If he persists in attacking his adversary, he can no longer invoke the justifying circumstance of self-defense” (The R.P.C., Reyes, 2021 citing People v. Cajurao).
In the case of People v. Samson, “after she (accused) was able to take hold of the knife from her husband, he did not stand down but, instead, continued to move towards her despite her plea that he should not come nearer. He grabbed her by the arm which could have precipitated her well-grounded belief that her life was still in danger if he would be able to wrest the weapon from her” (G.R. No. 214883, September 02, 2015).
Reasonable necessity of the means employed to prevent or repel it
“[R]easonable necessity of the means employed does not imply material commensurability between the means of attack and defense. What the law requires is rational equivalence… the imminent danger to which the person attacked is exposed, and the instinct more than the reason, that moves or impels the defense…” (The R.P.C., Reyes, 2021 citing People v. Encomienda).
“The reasonable necessity of the self-defense… ‘depends upon the nature or quality of the weapon, the physical condition, the character, the size and other circumstances of the aggressor; as well as those of the person who invokes self-defense; and also the place and the occasion of the assault’” (G.R. 214883, September 02, 2015).
“[T]he nature and location of wounds are considered important indicators whether or not to disprove a plea of self-defense.”
In People v. Samson, the lone stab wound on the victim’s chest supports the argument that Cristina (accused) feared for her life and this fear impelled her to defend herself by stabbing him (G.R. 214883, September 02, 2015).
In the same case, the means employed by the accused was reasonable considering “that her stronger husband,… had earlier pointed the said knife to her throat, approached her and grabbed her arm, despite her plea that he refrain from coming near her; and that she had no other available means or any less deadly weapon to repel the threat other than the knife in her hand” (G.R. 214883, September 02, 2015).
Lack of sufficient provocation on the part of the person defending himself
“To be entitled to the benefit of the justifying circumstance of self-defense, the one defending himself must not have given cause for the aggression by his unjust conduct or by inciting or provoking the assailant.”
Thus, to engage in a verbal argument cannot be considered sufficient provocation (The R.P.C., Reyes, 2021).
If the provocation was given by another person such as the brother-in-law and not the person defending himself, the third requisite is present (The R.P.C., Reyes, 2021 citing People v. Balansag).
However, when one challenges the deceased to come out of the house and engage in a fist fight with him, the provocation is sufficient (The R.P.C., Reyes, 2021 citing U.S. v. McCray); self defense cannot be invoked.
In the case of People v. Olarbe, “Arca [aggressor-victim] forcibly entered Olarbe’s house. Olarbe managed to get the gun of Arca, and they struggled for control of it. Upon wresting the gun from Arca, Olarbe fired at him…
“[B]ut Arca next took out the bolo… and charged at Olarbe’s common-law spouse… upon seizing the bolo, he [Olarbe] hacked Arca with it” (G.R. No. 227421, July 23, 2018).
“[T]he absence of any showing that Olarbe had provoked Arca, or that he had been induced by revenge, resentment or other evil motive has been equally palpable.
“We [Supreme Court] deem to be established, therefore, that the third element of the justifying circumstances of self-defense and defense of stranger were present” (G.R. 227421, July 23, 2018).
Flight or non-flight of an accused claiming self-defense
“Generally, flight, in the absence of a credible explanation, would be a circumstance from which an inference of guilt might be established…
“However, when the accused explained that she took flight for fear of her safety because of possible retaliation from her husband’s siblings… [S]he did not hide from the law but from those who would possibly do her harm” (G.R. 214883, September 02, 2015).
In Olarbe, his conduct following the killing of Arca — of voluntarily surrendering himself to the police authorities immediately after the killing and of reporting his participation in the killing of Arca to the police authorities bolstered his pleas of having acted in legitimate self-defense and legitimate defense of his common-law spouse.
Such conduct manifested innocence (G.R. 227421, July 23, 2018).