Assessing self-defense | The Manila Times

Assessing self defense | The Manila Times
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Dear PAO,

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At a barangay fiesta, our neighbor ran amuck and attacked my uncle, a barangay tanod on duty, with a bolo. A bystander and I intervened to help, but the attacker turned to us. In the chaos, I fell to the ground, and the attacker severely wounded me. I managed to struggle with him, but my uncle, who was already injured, ultimately dealt a fatal blow to the attacker, which caused the latter’s instantaneous death. My uncle was charged with homicide. Allegedly, his action was unreasonable because he inflicted a single mortal wound, which caused the demise of the attacker. Is my uncle liable for homicide?

Erickson

Dear Erickson,

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The reasonableness of the action of your uncle must be judged from his standpoint, considering the circumstances of the case as he perceived them at the time of the incident. This opinion finds support in the latest decision of the Supreme Court in the case of Floro Galorio v. People, GR 254531, Feb. 19, 2024, penned by Associate Justice Samuel Gaerlan:

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“And in crucial discussion, the Court therein emphasized that when deciding invocations of justifying circumstances, the state of mind of the accused at the time of the incident must always be taken into consideration, viz:

“In judging pleas of self-defense and defense of stranger, the courts should not demand that the accused conduct himself with the poise of a person not under imminent threat of fatal harm. He had no time to reflect and to reason out his responses. He had to be quick, and his responses should be commensurate to the imminent harm. This is the only way to judge him, for the law of nature — the foundation of the privilege to use all reasonable means to repel an aggression that endangers one’s own life and the lives of others — did not require him to use unerring judgment when he had the reasonable grounds to believe himself in apparent danger of losing his life or suffering great bodily injury. The test is whether his subjective belief as to the imminence and seriousness of the danger was reasonable or not, and the reasonableness of his belief must be viewed from his standpoint at the time he acted xxx

“Returning to the facts and evidence of the present controversy, the Court notes that petitioner’s state of mind is indeed decisive of his invocation of the justifying circumstances of defense of his nephew. Just like in Olarbe, petitioner was threatened with death and thereafter attacked in a swift and unprovoked manner. To which he was unprepared to repeal or prevent. The multiple cuts and stab wounds suffered by petitioner and his relatives are again the main sticking point here since they prove the imminent presence of danger of bodily harm that actually befell their persons. Having suffered a deep cut to his right ring fingers and stabs in his torso/abdominal area, it was only natural for petitioner to retreat momentarily, and right then and there, make a decision to find a way to end the violent confrontation still ongoing between the victim and his relatives — most especially Eric. Indeed, the imminent threat to petitioner personally had ceased, but the danger of bodily harm to his relatives had not. It is thus reasonable for the Court to conclude — especially with no credible evidence on record that the victim had at any point been disarmed — that the victim, as an imminent threat to petitioner and his relatives, had persisted in his determination and actions, and still presented a clear and present danger to those remaining on the scene.” (Emphasis not ours)

Guided by the aforesaid decision, it is clear that the imminence of the threat of your neighbor who ran amuck and the reasonableness of your uncle’s response to prevent or repel such an attack must be viewed from your uncle’s point of view in relation to the circumstances as he perceived them to be at the time of the incident. To reiterate, during the time that you were under imminent threat of fatal harm, your uncle who came to rescue you had no time to reflect on and reason out his responses. Hence, the fact that he inflicted a single mortal wound on your neighbor on its own will not negate his claim of self-defense. The surrounding circumstances of the case will be considered and weighed to determine the reasonableness of his actions and, ultimately, if he is liable for killing your neighbor.

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We hope that we were able to answer your queries. This advice is based solely on the facts you have narrated and our appreciation of the same. Our opinion may vary when other facts are changed or elaborated on.


Editor’s note: Dear PAO is a daily column of the Public Attorney’s Office. Questions for Chief Acosta may be sent to [email protected]



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