On Christmas Eve, SmartParenting.com.phreported that Ica Policarpio, the 17-year-old girl who had been missing for three days, and whose photo was shared all over social media, had finally been found. A concerned citizen spotted the Grade 12 student crying at a carinderia in San Pablo, Laguna and alerted authorities, according to ABS-CBN News.
Through a press conference, her father, lawyer Rufino Policarpio III, thanked the public for helping his family find Ica, but also appealed to the public to give their daughter a little privacy. “Ipagpaumanhin ho ninyo at hindi natin masyado talagang kinausap at pinakuwento dahil we respect her privacy. We respect her psychological state,” Rufino said, according to Rappler.
As the family went quiet after their daughter was found, citizens who participated in the “search” voiced out their disappointment that the family was keeping the truth from the public. Theories as to why she went missing spread through social media, with some netizens pointing out that she may have participated in a “48-hour challenge,” a viral Facebook trend that encourages children to go missing for up to two days at a time, according to The Independent.
On a Facebook post by pep.ph, where they shared Smart Parenting’s report on Ica, commenters shared their thoughts on the issue. While some were thankful that she had been found, others called her “bratinella,” “spoiled brat,” and “papansin.” One even said, “Sarap batukan yang bata na yan.” Others still criticized the girl for making her parents worried, while many pointed out that authorities went to great lengths to find her just because she came from an affluent family.
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Seemingly alarmed at all the hateful comments that their family had been getting, the family issued a public statement last night, December26. It was posted through Ica’s sister, BeaPolicarpio’s Facebook account.
“On behalf of the entire Policarpio family, I (Bea) would like to deeply thank each and every one of you who have helped us bring my sister Ica home. Though we have not met so many of you, through your prayers, posts, and messages, we have really felt your love and concern for our family in the time of our greatest need. If it were not for all of you who saw and shared our posts, I have no doubt that Ica would still be missing or worse. Because of this, there is no way we can ever repay everyone for the miracle that we have received,” the statement reads.
Bea continued to thank those who respected their request for privacy for “the past 48 hours,” which they spent recovering from sleepless nights and celebrating Christmas, and which Bea said were their family’s first attempts at healing.
To address the “persistent clamor for answers,” Bea clarified that Ica did not go missing because of the 48-hour challenge, and that her disappearance “was not a prank.” Instead, Ica disappeared from their home because of “deep emotional distress.”
“The reasons for her distress are numerous and honestly, private,” Bea says, adding that her sister is being evaluated medically, and their family bears the responsibility to understand the reasons for Ica’s pain, a burden that her sister had apparently been carrying for years. “Be assured that we are doing everything we can to make sure that she receives medical attention and emotional support that she needs,” she says.
Bea also begged the public not to judge and hate Ica so hastily. “She is only 17 years old, still a child. Please, we only beg that you do not judge her and that you help safeguard her future,” she says.
If nothing else, Bea hopes that their family’s experience could instead lead to raise awareness about the stigma of mental health in the country, as well as the growing culture of hate, which she says “exists in our country’s cyberspace, and collective mind space.”
“If anything, this hate culture is a desperate call for help. Let us answer this call with nothing but love, as difficult as this may be,” Bea says in the statement.
Read their statement in full:
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Ica’s story has definitely drawn mixed reactions from netizens, especially because many who shared her family’s call for help on social media felt that they had a right to know the real story of why she disappeared on December 21.
But one concerned mom posted on her Facebook that “the family doesn’t owe the Internet” anything. User Elaine Reyes, who was also one of the people who shared the Policarpios’ call for help, made a lengthy post in response to an article from the website Get Real Philippines, entitled, ‘A lesson for Ica Policarpio’s family: When you appeal to the public for help, you owe them closure.” The post is not set to public, but Elaine gave Smart Parenting permission to share her Facebook post via screencap.
“The family took a chance on the power of social media, and successfully got their daughter back because of it. Wouldn’t you do the same if your loved one went missing? I would,” Elaine says on her Facebook account, stressing that the important thing was that Ica was found safe, which was the whole point of the social media campaign.
As for the public asking for closure, Elaine admits that while she’s curious, too, it doesn’t give her the right to demand for an explanation, because the family also has the right to deal with their own issues privately. “Hindi naman ako naabala when they made the emergency public (ikaw, naabala ka ba?) If anything, they just have to answer to the police or NBI,” she says. She also says that she participated in the search out of her own free will. “I didn’t get sucked into this drama against my will. I actively participated and monitored the situation because as a human being and as a mom, I really wanted to help even by just sharing their posts.”
She ends her post by saying that she hopes others would never have to experience what the Policarpio family went through, especially because it happened right before Christmas. And for the public who are saying that they are entitled to their curiosity, Elaine has this to say: “Aminin ninyo na lang na you’re just plain tsimoso/tsismosas.”