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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.
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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."
sees herself as a traveler whose ultimate dream adventure is to explore
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©2003, 2004, 2005 , 2006, 2007 Astronomical League of the Philippines Inc.