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Father Victor Badillo: A Giant Among Men

by M. Aleah Taboclaon

 

Father Badillo's vision was to promote an astronomy for the people—making astronomy accessible to the general public.
Photo source: James Kevin Ty

Mention the name of Father Badillo to any amateur astronomer, and chances are, that person's eyes would light up with recognition. And it is only to be expected; after all, this Jesuit was president of the Philippine Astronomical Society or PAS (the oldest astronomical organization in the country) for 20 years. It is no wonder then that many Filipino amateur astronomers cite him as an influence in their lives.

With the objective of getting to know him better, we scheduled an interview with him as early as March 2004. Unfortunately, at that time, the 74-year-old Jesuit was scheduled for a series of surgeries, and the interview had to wait. Five months later, we were finally given the go-signal to see him.

After all the things I have heard about Father Badillo, I half-expected him to be huge, a physical force to reckon with. However, when we were ushered into his hospital room at the Jesuit Residence in Ateneo, I saw a genial-looking man, looking frail and delicate in his hospital clothes; who would have thought that this seemingly unprepossessing man is a giant in the minds of many?

Father Badillo received us gladly, gracious despite his situation. And in that dim room, amid the hospital paraphernalia and with the view of the Ateneo grounds, Father Badillo told us how he got into astronomy.

"Astronomy was not really my primary interest," he shared. He was interested in the sciences in general, and had it not been for an invitation by PAS founding president Philip Wyman, he would not have become part of the organization. For it was when he became president of PAS in 1973 that he began to study astronomy in earnest.

But Father Badillo is not averse to continuous self-education. After all, before he was ordained, he spent 15 years in the seminary just studying. The seminarians had been required to take a variety of courses—the Jesuits believe in the value of being well-rounded—but he was allowed to specialize. He chose the sciences, and later on, he went and got himself a doctorate in Physics.

The Calling

So did he want to be a Jesuit all his life? Like his involvement with astronomy, Father Badillo found his calling almost by chance. He had gone to high school in Batangas, but when the Second World War ended—he was in his third year then—he decided to transfer to Ateneo, which was then located at Padre Faura St. in Manila.

By some quirk of fate, the high schooler found himself constantly in the company of his Jesuit professors, and he found that the longer he got to know their way of life, the more he wanted to be like them. He was greatly attracted to how Jesuits value education. "For Jesuits," he said, "everything was made by God, so everything is worth studying." They also believe that educating oneself is a way of worshiping God, and it is a philosophy that Father Badillo always adheres to.

However, Jesuits are not mere armchair academicians, as part of their advocacy is to be involved in the struggles of the people. "Being involved means also trying to influence people," Father Badillo explained, "and to be able to influence, you have to know a lot of things."

The Amateur Astronomer

After Father Badillo was ordained, he was assigned to the Manila Observatory where he did Solar Radio Research. And although for ten years he analyzed the spectrum of the sun as part of his work, he did not consider himself an astronomer.

"I am not into professional astronomy (that is, research)," he clarified. "I see myself as an amateur astronomer only." He was the ultimate amateur, since when he was thrust into the leadership of PAS when Wyman returned to the United States, he threw himself wholeheartedly into the study of astronomy, poring over books and magazines with the intent of mastering the topic. This position Father Badillo held for almost two decades.

The Leader

As president of PAS, Father Badillo's vision was to promote an "astronomy for the people," so the emphasis was on expanding the member base and not limiting it to professionals only. Thus, PAS had members from all walks of life, from students and academicians to enthusiasts with both white and blue-collar jobs.

The main attraction of PAS was that they made astronomy accessible to the general public, giving both lectures and holding overnight observations. They started with the basics in observation—the naked eye, binoculars and simple telescopes—which later on became more and more sophisticated as new technology in observation and photography became readily available.

The Godfather

Father Badillo has long since relinquished the top post to other PAS members, which count among them Edwin Aguirre, Edmund Rosales, Jun Lao and James Kevin Ty. (Rosales, Lao and Ty later formed their own astronomy organization, the Astronomical League of the Philippines or ALP.)

He has not, however, fully inhibited himself from the astronomical community, as he is still highly regarded by both PAS and ALP. According to ALP president James Kevin Ty, " Father Badillo is one of the individuals that I respect most not only as a servant of God but also in the field of astronomy here in the Philippines. He brought the best out of me by patiently advising me in the field of astronomy ever since I joined PAS in the mid-80's. Now that ALP has been created, our respect for him is still unblemished."

PAS president Milo Dacanay also expressed the organization's high esteem for their former president. "Father Badillo stood the tallest among the pillars of PAS," he said, "and he has always been the source of moral support and inspiration to everyone."

For a Jesuit who got into astronomy by chance, these commendations for his contribution to Philippine amateur astronomy say a great deal indeed. And it was then that I realized that regardless of his physical stature, Father Badillo is indeed a giant among men.

ALEAH sees herself as a traveler whose ultimate dream adventure is to explore outer space.

 

 

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