Judge Eliseo Dayao Sr: Kidapawan’s Forgotten War Martyr

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A picture of Judge Eliseo Dayao Sr from his family grave in Kidapawan’s old Public Cemetery (only a tombstone is there, as his body was never found). I had no idea the Dayao family grave was just beside my family’s!

In my recent homecoming to Kidapawan, I dug up more information about the late Judge Eliseo Dayao Sr.

I forget where I heard that judge Dayao was a casualty of the Second World War, but I since had a hard time getting more details. Now that I’m working on a book about Kidapawan, I found the chance to probe more.

The Dayao family in Kidapawan are family friends of sorts: my grandfather Boy Galay bought a piece of land just beside the sizable Dayao property in downtown Kidapawan, and he would apparently cross the street to drink with the Dayao-Yaotos. I was also godson to a Dayao grand-daughter, and childhood friends with some great-grandsons.But even then I had little idea about the family and its enigmatic patriarch.

So I got in touch with some of my kababatas to talk with the last surviving child of the late judge, their grandmother Elma Dayao-Yaoto.

When I talked to her a clearer picture of what seemed to be a very dramatic story emerged.

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Photo courtesy of Elric Yaoto-Evangelista

A Tagalog, Eliseo Dayao belonged to the generation of American-educated illustrados that also included Manuel Quezon, Sergio Osmeña, and Jose Abad Santos, with a particular background in law (He studied in the University of the Philippines College of Law and became a lawyer in 1924). But unlike these contemporaries who enjoyed legal careers in prosperous and peaceful locales, Dayao was assigned in 1934 to serve as judge in the far-flung territory of Pikit in Mindanao, then the frontier of American colonial rule.

A year into his stay in the area, the local Manobo leader Datu Icdang gave the judge a large amount of land in where Kidapawan now is (Kidapawan at the time was under the administrative jurisdiction of Pikit). Just before he died Dayao donated half of this estate to the embryonic municipality of Kidapawan, a portion of which now consists of a large section of Kidapawan’s downtown area.

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Judge Dayao, beside Datu Icdang. Photo courtesy of my kuya Dexter David and Wesley Dayao

When I talked to manang Elma, she showed me a picture of her father and the datu.

Dayao also met Manuela Velarde in his time in Mindanao, and he would end up marrying her and having a family of four children.

When the Second World War came, the Japanese took Pikit and its nearby towns, setting up a constabulary headquarters in Baranggay Lanao in Kidapawan (where the Kidapawan Water District now stands).

As all civil institutions did during the Japanese occupation, Judge Dayao continued to perform his duties as judge. The judge was a generous man, and it seemed that the Japanese had no problems with him at first.

But his generosity proved to be his undoing. He had secretly been giving support to the guerrillas in the form of food and supplies. This fact reached the local Japanese command, presumably through the network of collaborators in Kidapawan. Apparently someone saw him slip a note from a suspected guerrilla into his chest pocket in public.

Though assigned in Pikit, judge Dayao would often go to Kidapawan to cultivate the land Datu Icdang gave him. And so, on November 19, 1942, on one such visit to his Kidapawan property, judge Dayao was gunned down somewhere in Baranggay Lanao. The Japanese then proceeded to bury him somewhere. His body was never found.

His widow Manuela, along with his four children, were quickly hidden by the guerrillas, for the Japanese would almost certainly kill them next.

Today the only thing left of Judge Dayao’s memory is the street named after him in downtown Kidapawan. It is named after him not because of his tragedy but because he owned the property adjacent to it, property that is now at the heart of the city’s commercial area. It seems fitting that the street is parallel to Jose Abad Santos Street, another martyr of the War. But as few Kidapawanons even know who Jose Abad Santos was, Judge Dayao is even more obscure, one of the elusive historical figures of this city that cannot remember.

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