Dear PAO,

My cousin was apprehended by the police for an alleged theft incident. However, it turned out that there was no ground to arrest my him. Thus, I wanted to be enlightened on the difference between the crime of arbitrary detention and illegal arrest. What is the proper case to file against the police officer who arrested my cousin without any ground?


Dear Monching,

In order to briefly explain and compare the difference between the crime of arbitrary detention and illegal arrest, we shall refer to the Revised Penal Code (RPC) of the Philippines which provides for the legal definition of these crimes.

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Article 124 of the RPC provides that an arbitrary detention is committed by any public officer or employee who, without legal grounds, detains a person. On the other hand, Article 269 of the said Code provides that unlawful arrest is committed by any person who, in any case other than those authorized by law, or without reasonable ground therefor, shall arrest or detain another for the purpose of delivering him to the proper authorities.

As can be gleaned from the aforementioned provisions of law, arbitrary detention is committed by a public officer while the crime of unlawful arrest can be both committed by public officers and/or private persons. Moreover, the essence of the crime of arbitrary detention is the act of detaining a person without any lawful cause, whereas in unlawful arrest, the essence of crime is the act of arresting a person without a legal cause for the purpose of delivering the person arrested to proper authorities.

Further dividing the line between the two crimes, the Supreme Court explained in the case of Duropan and Coloma v. People (GR 230825, June 10, 2020) penned by Associate Justice Marvic Mario Victor Leonen) that:

"Further, if the warrantless arrest was without any legal ground, the arresting officers become liable for arbitrary detention under Article 124. However, if the arresting officers are not among those whose official duty gives them the authority to arrest, they become liable for illegal detention under Article 267 or 268. If the arrest is for the purpose of delivering the person arrested to the proper authorities, but it is done without any reasonable ground or any of the circumstances for a valid warrantless arrest, the arresting persons become liable for unlawful arrest under Article 269.


In the crime of unlawful arrest, the offender who arrested or detained another intended to deliver the apprehended person to the proper authorities, considering he or she does not have the authority. xxx"

Thus, a public officer, who in the performance of official function or authority, arrests and detains a person without lawful cause is liable for illegal detention. However, if the public officer does not have such authority, and the arrest was effected for the purpose of turning over the person to the proper authorities, then the crime committed is unlawful arrest.

In your case, the public official involved is a police officer who is vested by law to arrest and detain persons. Thus, if the detention of your cousin is proved to be without legal cause, then the said police officer is liable for arbitrary detention.

We hope that we were able to answer your query. Please be reminded that 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.

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]