SC: Killing someone holding a gun is NOT self defense; it must be aimed

By invoking self-defense, the accused admits inflicting the fatal injuries that caused the victim's death, albeit under circumstances that, if proven, would have exculpated him. With this admission, the burden of proof shifted to him to show that the killing was attended by the following circumstances: (1) unlawful aggression on the part of the victim; (2) reasonable necessity of the means employed to prevent or repel such aggression; and (3) lack of sufficient provocation on the part of the person invoking self-defense.[1]

Considering that self-defense totally exonerates the accused from criminal responsibility, it is incumbent upon him who invokes the same to prove by clear, satisfactory and convincing evidence that he indeed acted in defense of his life or personal safety. When successful, an otherwise felonious deed would be excused, mainly predicated on the lack of criminal intent of the accused.[2][3]Unlawful aggression is the indispensable element of self-defense, for if no unlawful aggression attributed to the victim is established, self-defense is unavailing for there is nothing to repel. Verily, there can be no self-defense, whether complete or incomplete, unless the victim had committed unlawful aggression against the person invoking it as a justifying circumstance.[4]

Unlawful aggression is an actual physical assault, or at least a threat to inflict real imminent injury, upon a person. The test for the presence of unlawful aggression is whether the victim's aggression placed in real peril the life or personal safety of the person defending himself. The danger must not be an imagined or imaginary threat. Accordingly, the confluence of these elements of unlawful aggression must be established by the accused, to wit: (a) there must be a physical or material attack or assault; (b) the attack or assault must be actual, or at least imminent; and (c) the attack or assault must be unlawful.[5]

As the second element of unlawful aggression will show, it is of two kinds: (a) actual or material unlawful aggression; and (b) imminent unlawful aggression Actual or material unlawful aggression means an attack with physical force or with a weapon, an offensive act that positively determines the intent of the aggressor to cause the injury. Imminent unlawful aggression means an attack that is impending or at the point of happening; it must not consist in a mere threatening or intimidating attitude, nor must it be merely imaginary, but must be offensive, menacing and positively strong, manifestly showing the wrongful intent to cause injury (like aiming a revolver at another with intent to shoot or opening a knife and making a motion as if to attack). There must be an actual, sudden, unexpected attack or imminent danger thereof which puts the accused's life in real peril.[6]

In People v. Enrique Reyes (G.R. No. 224498, January 11, 2018), the Court found the element of unlawful aggression to be wanting. There was nothing in the records which would clearly and convincingly prove Enrique's claim that his life was in danger when he saw Danilo. Enrique claimed that when Celia shouted his name, he saw Danilo who was about to shoot him. However, based on Celia's testimony, Danilo was only approaching Enrique while holding a gun. Celia did not witness any positive act showing the actual and material unlawful aggression on the part of the victim. Even P/Insp. Gary, whom Enrique presented as an alleged eyewitness, only testified that he saw a man carrying a small firearm approaching Enrique and when the latter turned to his right, a volley of gunshots followed. Evidently, the records of the case did not show any indication of unlawful aggression that would justify a finding of self-defense.

Indeed, accused failed to show an attack so offensive, menacing and strongly indicative of an intent to cause injury, as to justify the killing of Danilo. In People v. Rubiso[7], the Supreme Court held:
Assuming that Hubines had a gun and pulled it, however, records show that he did not manifest any aggressive act which may have imperiled the life and limb of herein appellant. It is axiomatic that the mere thrusting of one's hand into his pocket as if for the purpose of drawing a weapon is not unlawful aggression. Even the cocking of a rifle without aiming the firearm at any particular target is not sufficient to conclude that one's life was in imminent danger. Hence, a threat, even if made with a weapon, or the belief that a person was about to be attacked, is not sufficient. It is necessary that the intent be ostensibly revealed by an act of aggression or by some external acts showing the commencement of actual and material unlawful aggression.

[1] Guevarra, et al. v. People, 726 Phil. 183, 194 (2014); People v. Fontanilla, 680 Phil. 155, 165 (2012).

[2] Dela Cruz v. People, et al., 747 Phil. 176, 384-385 (2014).

[3] Oriente v. People, 542 Phil. 335, 347 (2007).

[4] People v. Enrique Reyes (G.R. No. 224498, January 11, 2018).

[5] People v. Enrique Reyes (G.R. No. 224498, January 11, 2018).

[6] People v. Enrique Reyes (G.R. No. 224498, January 11, 2018).

[7] 447 Phil. 374, 381 (2003).