Abducted farmer Rex Triplitt poses with soldiers who rescued him.
By Tracy Cabrera
“LANZONES saved me” 64-year-old Rex Susulan Triplitt enthused as the farmer from Barangay Piacanin Sirawai, Zamboanga del Norte almost died to hunger if not of the native fruit while in captivity from local bandits suspected to have links with terrorist group Abu Sayyaf.
According to Triplitt, he was not given enough food throughout his 14-day captivity and there were times he thought he would surely expire because of extreme lack of sustenance.
“At first, we still had rice for food. But when the man who was bringing supplies to where I was held, was arrested, we (didn’t) have food anymore,” the farmer narrated.
It was by some stroke of luck that lanzones fruits were in season in that part of the vast Zamboanga Peninsula.
“Lanzones was like rice and viand for us,” Triplitt explained.
He was snatched on September 16 in Tapayanan village in Sirawai. He, his wife, and their child were on a motorcycle going home when flagged down by five heavily armed men. His wife and child managed to escape and immediately reported the incident to authorities.
Triplitt said he lost his shoes when dragged by his abductors hence the long walk through the mountains was punishing.
“When exhausted, I stop due to gnawing pain on my feet, but they kick me, forcing me to walk. They treated me like an animal,” he recalled.
Triplitt said he was first kept in an area near a waterfall. Amid the pursuit operation by the army and police, they have to walk even during the night to flee.
The military has sealed off sea routes in Sirawai to prevent his transfer to the Abu Sayyaf hideaways in Basilan or Sulu.
Last September30, government forces, through information forwarded by local residents, located Triplitt and his abductors in a secluded area in Pisa Itom village, also in Sirawai town. During the gunfight that ensued between the terrorists and Army troopers, Triplitt was able to escape.
Prior to his abduction, Triplitt said he earned a living painting house. He began doing this right after he made plans to sell his farm for PhP1.2 million.
He said that while in captivity, he offered it for only P1 million to his abductors in exchange for his release as if the P200,000 markdown was for ransom. The offer was rejected.
Looking more like a foreigner, Triplitt clarified that he is a pure Filipino, although his great grandfather, he said, is an American. His mother is a native of Sulu.
“My neighbors know me and they always call me Kano’ng hilaw (half-baked American),” he joked in Chabacano—the local Creole dialect in Zamboanga.
Authorities believe that the Triplitt’s kidnappers mistook the farmer as a wealthy man capable of shelling out a fat ransom and later discovered they were wrong in their assumption.