A Hero of Strangers
by Lex. (@attyKaashi)
Have you ever wondered why superheroes aren’t indicted, notwithstanding countless crimes they commit while they’re off flying and saving the world — or the United States, most of the time?
Despite the murders, despite the property damage, there are few mugshots, few preliminary investigations, and even fewer court hearings. Here’s why, and it’s not just because these heroes are super.
Common law¹ calls it the right to defend third persons, or simply the defense of strangers. In our local jurisdiction, this right is embodied in Par. 3, Art. 11 of the Revised Penal Code [hereinafter “RPC”], to wit:
Article 11. Justifying circumstances. — The following do not incur any criminal liability:
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(3) Anyone who acts in defense of the person or rights of a stranger, provided that the first and second requisites mentioned in the first circumstance of this Article are present and that the person defending be not induced by revenge, resentment, or other evil motives.
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These justifying circumstances — including the defense of strangers — entail that the person who transgressed is free from both criminal and civil liability. The accused is not a criminal, because the law deems that no crime has actually been committed. There being no crime, there can be no civil or criminal liability². Walang kulong, walang danyos, so to speak. The reason for this rule is simply the lack of criminal intent of the person who transgressed³.
What does it really take to successfully invoke the defense of strangers to incur no crime? The Supreme Court gave us three requisites⁴ or a test of three items.
The first of these requisites and the most important one is unlawful aggression. We can analyze this requisite by splitting those two words in, well, two. Aggression means that there must be an actual or at least a threat of a physical attack towards a person⁵. This attack must put such person in real and imminent peril of life, not merely imaginary⁶. Unlawful means contrary to law or that the aggression would have been a crime had it not been for the intervention.
The second requisite, according to both jurisprudence and law, is the reasonable necessity of the means employed or the rational equivalence principle. The act of the defense taken up by the hero must be proportionate to the gravity of the aggression upon the person being defended⁷. However, it does not follow that the defender must use the same weapon as the attacker. The means employed by the hero must only be reasonably necessary to prevent or repel the aggression⁸.
The last one is perhaps the least predictable. The Supreme Court mandates that the person defending another is not doing so due to revenge or resentment. The RPC requires that the defense must hinge upon a disinterested or generous motive. Hence, in this kind of defense, the motive is considered⁹.
Let’s put all of these mumbo-jumbos into context. Let’s say Junie, an ice-cream vendor, hears Mr. X say, “Hold-up ‘to, akin na cellphone mo.” Upon looking at the commotion, Junie sees Mr. X and Liana, the love of his life, fighting over the latter’s cellphone. Mr. X had Liana at gunpoint. Junie quickly finds a small, hidden alcove to change into his costume. Just as Mr. X was about to pull the trigger, a sludge of orange goo shoots out from Junie’s, now Gagamboy, hand. As a result, Mr. X falls onto the pavement and suffers minor physical injuries. Should Gagamboy be liable for the injuries suffered by Mr. X? Why don’t you decide?
What about Deadpool? Or, Robinhood? Or, V? Should these superheroes whose definition of justice is vigilantism be likewise excused for the crimes they committed? Short answer, no. Long answer, they are not excused for two reasons.
The Supreme Court states that the unlawful aggression must be continuing; that is, the attack must be existing at the time the defense is made¹⁰. When the attack began and ended even before the vigilante defended the victim, the latter is no longer considered in peril¹¹. Without the first requisite, resorting to the right to defend third parties is untenable.
Assuming, for the sake of argument, that we do have the first and second requisite, vigilantism presupposes that there is retaliation; that these vigilantes committed these crimes because they have been slighted first. The Supreme Court likewise addressed this in stating that retaliation is not defense¹².
Justice Malcolm, in a 1918 case penned by him, states that the ordinary man would not stand idly by and see his companion killed without attempting to save his life¹³. True enough, yes, but more than a hundred years have passed since this statement was first put to words. It no longer holds water in all cases. A distinction must be made based on the motive of the hero, means they are employed, and the nature of the aggression of the villain.
But, at the end of the day and when the world is finally at peace, Gagamboy, Deadpool, Robinhood, and V are all just humans. This specific provision in the Revised Penal Code was incorporated from common law for the benefit of all who reside in the Philippines¹⁴ — super or not. You don’t have to be super to be a hero to a stranger.
Have you ever saved anyone? Did it at least make you feel kind of super?
¹ Let it be noted that common law did not always include defense of strangers, but due to the times, it quickly expanded to include said concept. MODEL PENAL CODE S 3.05 cmt. 1 (1962 Proposed Official Draft with 1985 Revised Commentary)
² Art. 100, Revised Penal Code.
³ Reyes, L. (2021). The Revised Penal Code Criminal Law Book One. Rex Bookstore.
⁴ Mariano v. People, G.R. №224102, July 26, 2017.
⁵ People v. Siega, G.R. №213273, June 27, 2018.
⁶ People v. Cosgafa, G.R. №218250, July 10, 2017.
⁷ People v. Guatal, G.R. №115233, February 22, 1996.
⁸ Garcia Notes — Criminal Law Review (2018).
⁹ Supra at 3.
¹⁰ Gotis v. People, G.R. №157201, September 14, 2007.
¹¹ People v. Duran, G.R. №215748, November 20, 2017.
¹³ U.S. v. Aviado, 38 Phil. 10, 13.
¹⁴ Art. 2, RPC.
Akaashi “Lex” Keiji is a editorial writer for LAGABLAB. He can be contacted at @attyKaashi on Twitter.