Retaliation v. Self-Defense

Retaliation is different from self-defense. In retaliation, the aggression that was begun by the injured party already ceased to exist when the accused attacked him. In self-defense, the aggression was still existing when the aggressor was injured by the accused. After the danger has passed, one is not justified in following up his adversary to take his life. The conflict for blood should be avoided if possible. An assault on his person, he cannot punish when the danger or peril is over. When the danger is over, the right of self-defense ceases. His right is defense, not retribution.

Appellant argues that his claim of self-defense is buttressed by the fact that he immediately surrendered to the authorities after the incident and that the victim sustained only one stab wound. Also, he stresses that if a crime was indeed committed, it is only homicide because the attack was frontal and that a heated altercation preceded the stabbing. Lastly, he contends that since he sustained an injury in his upper left arm, as confirmed by Dr. Rivera, it follows that he is not the unlawful aggressor.

The Solicitor General counters that appellants claim of self-defense is weak and unfounded because: first, as between appellant and the victim, it was the former who had more reason to harbor ill-feelings; second, the victims gesture of tapping appellants shoulder was a sign of goodwill; third, the victim was stabbed in the chest indicating an intent to kill on the part of appellant; fourth, appellant did not claim self-defense when he surrendered to Kagawad Fernandez and the police; and fifth, he failed to present the knife to the authorities. The Solicitor General likewise maintains that treachery was present because there was an element of surprise in the attack.

When the accused interposes self-defense, he must prove that: (1) he is not the unlawful aggressor; (2) there was lack of sufficient provocation on his part; and (3) he employed reasonable means to prevent or repel the aggression. Although all these elements must concur, self- defense is perched on proof of unlawful aggression on the part of the victim.Without it, there can be no self-defense, complete or incomplete.

Under the circumstances here, the Supreme Court is convinced that appellant is the unlawful aggressor. As maybe gleaned from the narrations of the witnesses, the incident has two stages. The first stage took place in appellants house where the victim felt insulted when rebuked by the appellant for interfering in a family squabble. This prompted the victim to hit appellants upper left arm with a steel pipe. Afterwards, the victim left.
The second stage began when the victim met appellant and Kagawad Fernandez along the road. At this time, the victim wanted to reconcile with the appellant. In fact, he offered appellant a handshake, telling him to forget what happened. Unfortunately, appellant, who had not yet shaken off his ire against the victim, stabbed the latter.

While admittedly, the victim was the unlawful aggressor during the first stage of the incident, however, he ceased to be in the second stage. The lapse of an appreciable time interval had cooled off his head as shown by the fact that he was trying to shake appellants hand and telling him, forget what happened.

Unlawful aggression presupposes an actual, sudden and unexpected attack, or imminent danger thereof. For one to be considered the unlawful aggressor, he must be shown to have exhibited external acts clearly showing his intent to cause and commit harm to the other. In the case at bar, the prosecution witnesses belied any act of aggression on the part of the victim. The evidence shows he was unarmed and had no idea of the impending attack against him.

Certainly, the victims act of aggression during the first stage of the incident does not justify appellants conduct during the second stage. Settled is the rule that when unlawful aggression ceases, the defender has no longer any right to kill or wound the former aggressor, otherwise, retaliation, and not self-defense is committed.

Appellant implores us to give credence to the testimonies of the defense witnesses. The Supreme Court is not swayed. It is a well-settled principle that when it comes to the matter of credibility, the appellate courts generally do not overturn the findings of the trial courts. The latter are in a best position to ascertain and measure the sincerity and spontaneity of witnesses through their actual observation of the witnesses manner of testifying, demeanor and behavior in court. The Supreme Court can see no reason to deviate from this principle.

With marked significance is the fact that there appears no motive on the part of the prosecution witnesses Ronald Terte and Jose Noe, Sr. to falsely testify against appellant. On his part, appellant proffered no explanation why these witnesses implicated him. Worse, while the prosecution presented disinterested witnesses, the defense called to the witness stand only appellants wife and sister. Though there is no presumption that a testimony of a relative is tainted, the Supreme Court cannot but cast an eye of suspicion on the testimonies of appellants close relatives.It is the natural tendency of a person to testify for and not against his relatives.

In People vs. Ching, it was ruled: It is but natural, although morally unfair, for a close relative to give weight to blood ties and close relationship in times of dire needs especially when a criminal case is involved.

READ: Sanchez vs. People, G.R. No. 161007, 06 December 2006; People vs. Vicente, G.R. No. 137296, 26 June 2003, 405 SCRA 40