PEOPLE V ARBALATE- Self Defense
Facts of the case:
On July 7, 2002, around 3:00 pm, Gualberto Selemen, Jose Ragasa and Ruperto Arbalate drank alcohol at Selemen’s home at Samar. Two hours into the drinking, good-natured teasing turned into an altercation. Alarmed, Selemen’s common law wife, Jovita Quijano, hurried to seek help and subsequently came back with Ruperto’s wife. Ruperto then struck Selemen’s hand with a piece of wood, however, Ruperto headed home when his wife convinced him to do so.
Shortly, Ruperto came back with both his sons, Roel and Ramil, all armed with bolos. When Roel was able to trace Selemen’s face with a flashlight, Ruperto and Ramil started to hack Selemen in various parts of his body with their bolos. Selemen ran to the rice field to escape but was chased down by the Arbalates. When Selemen was lifeless, Ramil beheaded Selemen. Ruperto carried the head to the street, and told Quijano that her husband’s head was already his. Ruperto left the head at the ground before he reached home.
Ruperto invoked self-defense, stating that Selemen hit him in the face with his fist. Ruperto grabbed a bolo and ran to the rice field where he was chased by Selemen. Both men fought. Ruperto went home and later surrendered to the police. He only saw Selemen’s head when he was brought to the Municipal Hall.
The Trial Court found Ruperto guilty of murder beyond reasonable doubt. His two sons Roel and Ramil remain at large. Ruperto brought the case to the Court of Appeals on appeal. The appellate court upheld the trial court’s findings. The case is now before the Supreme Court on appeal.
(1) Whether or not the court gravely erred in convicting the appellant despite his plea of self-defense
(2) Whether or not the appellant was correctly convicted of the crime of murder instead of homicide
(1) No, the court did not err in convicting the appellant.
For Ruperto to avail of the defense of self-defense, he must meet the requirements, prescribed in Article11 of the Revised Penal Code. (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. Unlawful aggression is an actual physical assault, or at least a threat to inflict real imminent injury, upon a person. There must be an actual, sudden, unexpected attack or imminent danger, which puts the defendant’s life in real peril. In the case at bar, there was no unlawful aggression shown by the victim. It was Ruperto who struck first, not the victim. The wounds as well as the act of beheading the victim clearly belie self-defense. There was also a lapse of time between the altercation with victim and his murder. The Arbalate’s purpose was to exact vengeance and nothing more. The act of bringing the head to the street was also an act of scoffing at the corpse of the dead.
(2) Yes, the appellant was correctly convicted of the crime of murder.
The appellate and trial courts correctly held that there is no homicide since there was the qualifying circumstance of abuse of superior strength. Abuse of superior strength is present when the attackers cooperated in such a way as to secure advantage of their combined strength to perpetrate the crime with impunity. It is considered whenever there is a notorious inequality of forces between the victim and the aggressors, assessing a superiority of strength notoriously advantageous for the aggressors which are selected or taken advantage of by them in the commission of the crime. Such aggravating circumstance was perpetrated by Ruperto and his two sons in chasing the victim with bolos. The unarmed victim did not stand a chance against these three men. Although the presence of abuse of superior strength alone qualifies the killing to murder, in the presence of both treachery and abuse of superior strength, the latter is absorbed by treachery.
Ruperto’s voluntary surrender is a mitigating circumstance, since he gave himself up to the police when the latter arrived at his house.
Under Article 248 of the Revised Penal Code, as amended by Republic Act No. (RA) 7659, murder is punishable by reclusion perpetua to death. With no generic aggravating circumstance and one generic mitigating circumstance of voluntary surrender, the penalty imposable on accused-appellant, in accordance with Art. 63(3) of the Revised Penal Code should be the minimum period, which is reclusion perpetua.