President Arroyo’s decision to grant executive clemency to former President Estrada, reinstating in full his civil and political rights, has raised a number of questions and challenges from those opposed to the decision. These challenges have basically been scoffed at by the Arroyo administration, as experts agree that the granting of pardon is a presidential prerogative that legally does not require public reasoning or approval by another branch of government. The administration’s position is that it is under no obligation to answer the calls and questions of the people.

Legally, the administration is correct: when granting pardon, the president is under no obligation to the people. Democratically, however, this logic is fundamentally flawed. In a democracy, a president is always under obligation to the people, he or she is always under obligation to answer challenges to his or her decisions and his or her decisions are always subject to the will of the people.

My uncle ran barangay kagawad this past election. The slogan of his lineup was simple: “Ready to Serve.” These small village elections and their similarly small campaign tactics may seem unsophisticated in the world of national politicians with their billions of pesos in campaign funds, intricate machinery, and party coalitions and rivalries. However, this simple slogan emits an insight lost on most national politicians. Public officeholders are public servants.

 

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