Three weeks of festivities – Moalboal, Philippines

I survived the brutal heat and humidity during the three weeks I spent in Moalboal, my hometown on the island of Cebu in the Philippines.  Whew, summer in the Philippines is like living inside a broiler oven 24 hours a day, not to mention the ever-present humidity and stickiness on the skin.  But I endured it for the love of family, and to attend other festivities there – birthdays, reunions, a town fiesta and a wedding!

Celebrating my mother’s 97th birthday was every bit a good reason to return back home, even though Steve and I had visited her just a few months before.  The multi-day event began with a group of friends serenading her at dawn on her birthday, and continued with a tribute to her a few days later when everyone from abroad had arrived.

Monica Babiera Sandalo
The birthday girl at 97!

Many of you know I come from a family of twelve, me being the eleventh child.  My dad passed away in 1969 and my mom was left behind to support and send all of us to school on her meager salary as a public school teacher.  She has always been the glue that holds us all together, and I have to say she is one amazing woman.

Em Mo Sandalo Family
It was cheaper by the dozen then, and my parents produced an equal number of boys and girls! That cute girl striking a pose in the front row is me

During all of these subsequent years my family has multiplied and lived in different parts of the Philippines and other countries.  We always look forward to big family gatherings and re-connecting again, along with getting to know new additions to the family tree.  We dubbed this family event the Em Mo Sandalo family reunion, Emiliano being my dad’s first name and Monica my mom’s.

The amazing mother with “only” nine of her brood (three could not attend), 54 years after that first family picture was taken

The descendants of the Emiliano and Monica family tree have continued growing, as shown in the group picture below.  About a third of the family could not attend this gathering:

The Sandalo' today
My family by the numbers: from the original twelve there are 28 grandchildren, 30 great grandchildren and 3 great great grandchildren

A family this size required a two-day family event – one day at the beach which the second generation sponsored, and a second gathering at the ancestral home sponsored by the grandchildren.

Despite the sweltering heat, the beach bash was a great success with plenty of food to go around and activities for all age groups.

Em Mo Sandalo Family Reunion
The family reunion at the beach

Not to be outdone, the grandchildren sponsored a Mexican Fiesta-themed gathering the following day that featured a huge food spread.  All of the eating was followed by a night full of karaoke singing.  Many Filipino homes have a karaoke machine or a “Magic Sing” microphone, which is a digital device that turns a television into a karaoke machine. This entertainment is often featured at family events, and our gathering was no exception.  As always, there were “aspiring” singers and then there were talented singers.

Sandalo Family Reunion
A spread to feed an army – a table full of grilled seafood, pork ribs, chicken and hanging rice (puso)

Mother was truly touched on this evening.  She was full of happy emotions as she watched her grandchildren and great grandchildren dancing and singing to pay her a tribute.  It was a night full of fun, laughter and much happiness.

Monica Babiera Sandalo
A very happy grandma!

Our family reunions are always a time to rekindle ties and refresh relationships, especially for those of us who now live outside the Philippines.  Each passing year yields one or more additions to the family, either by birth or by marriage, and our gatherings are often the only chance we get to meet them.  We always look forward to seeing each other again!

I also attended my high school grand reunion during this visit.  I had looked forward to this event too, as it was the first time I had attended an alumni homecoming since my high school graduation.

SJHS Class 74
San Juan High School – Class 1974

What made this gathering so special was that our Father Director from my school was also in attendance.  His mentoring and training had a big impact on my career and life in general.  I was very happy to see him again after 41 years!

Fr Francisco G Silva
With Father Francisco G. Silva, the former director of San Juan High School

In sweltering heat, wearing makeup and dressed to the nine’s, I traveled to another island in Dumaguete City to attend my nephew’s wedding.  This was also a great occasion for meeting cousins from distant islands.  In Dumaguete City I met with my first cousins whom I used to visit with my dad in my younger days.  I had not seen them since my dad’s passing, and it was so great to catch up with them again!

All of the festivities made the three weeks fly by.  As hectic as my schedule was and as hot as the days were, being able to bond with family and reunite with cousins and high school classmates made this visit very precious for me.




  1. Your family definitely knows how to have a good time:) How wonderful for your mother to be able to see her children grow into successful adults and be able to enjoy her many, many grand and great grandchildren. Your mother looks wonderful. Glad you were able to be part of her 97th celebration. That is a spread of food. Glad we could help you work it off:)

    • Welcome back, MonaLiza! How wonderful that you could be with family and friends for so many special celebrations. What a beautiful gift to have your family gather together to celebrate your amazing mother on her 97th birthday. I loved seeing all of the photos of your family, and the photo of you as a child — so adorable!

  2. What a grand fun seeing the entire family. Your mother was a very amazing lady. She looks wonderful for 97. Wouldn’t it be awesome it all of us could have a two-day celebration for our birthday. The beach is the perfect place.

    Attending the reunion and wedding was just the icing on the cake. Thanks for the cool post.

  3. What an awesome account of a fabulous gathering(s)!! You are so blessed to have such a wonderful family, all so willing to travel thousands of miles to be together. Your mother must truly be a special lady! So glad you are “home” safely.
    Our love, Judy and Joe

  4. When you said that one photo did not include about a third of the family I laughed out loud! That is quite a crowd! Looks like a really fun trip with lots of great events and family and friends. Glad to have you back in the states though!

  5. What a wonderful gathering for your mom. She definitely sounds like an amazing woman and how special that you were able to be there for all the happenings. Welcome back 🙂

  6. What a big family you have, and how wonderful that you could be there for your mom’s 97th birthday. Looks like you all had a ball and so much good food to eat. Great photos, Mona Lisa. 😃

  7. Friends serenading at dawn. Boy I sure would love that as a birthday present. You’ve obviously got some long lived genes in your background. Your mother must have been an amazing woman to provide for 12 children. And even more amazing is how many descendents she has. What a fantastic time you had. I really love seeing your pictures of the Philippines and your family. What a cutie you were and are. Welcome back!

    • The serenade called ” mananita” is really cool when you are awaken by a soft joyous melodies. Then after that it gets fast and everyone will be dancing and of course eating. At the last count we are now 100 and counting.

  8. you were the littlest girl in the picture then, and you still are! What a grand time you must have had, seeing everyone all together and to celebrate your wonderful mother, the start of it all!

  9. Thank you for sharing your family…it put a big smile on my face reading all about the fun you had! Your mom is incredible!

    Welcome home!

  10. What great memories you must have created with that large family of yours MonaLiza. It must have really touched your mother to have so many of you there for her special day.

  11. I can see why your grandma is living happily at that age. She’s gotta be content, relaxed, and having that peace of mind with how her family tree has grown. Mothers … she deserves the big hoopla, and all the presence and attention. It was nice reading your family history.

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