Australian jailed in Cebu no closer to justice after five years behind bars

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justice
Quest for justice: Troy Birthisel pictured before his prison ordeal began in 2013.

An Australian who has been locked up in a crowded Philippine jail for five years says he is still no closer to getting justice.

Troy Birthisel, aged 49, from Queensland, was arrested at Cebu Airport in October 2013 on suspicion of human trafficking and illegal recruitment of workers — crimes that can potentially carry a life sentence.

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Under the ‘Speedy Trial Act’, all trials in the Philippines should be completed within 180 days of arrest. Mr Birthisel has been detained for more than 1,800 days, or ten times this mandated timeframe. 

“I’m entitled to a day in court and should I be convicted then, fine, I’ll wear that. I don’t believe I’m guilty of anything and I’ve got evidence to say that I’m not.

“I’ve actually got evidence, and they don’t even have evidence,” he said.

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The prosecution team has already dropped the trafficking charge, citing lack of evidence. Depsite this, Mr Birthisel still has to face trial for “illegal recruitment involving economic sabotage”.

He says he was merely accompanying his girlfriend and a group of her friends to Singapore, where they had job interviews that they had arranged online.

Mr Birthisel, who is imprisoned in Lapu Lapu city jail in Cebu, insists he is an innocent victim of corrupt officials who initially attempted to extort money from him. He also says that the friends of his girlfriend were intimidated into making allegations against him and his girlfriend, who is also imprisoned.

The six women who were travelling with the pair all six filed ‘affidavits of desistance’ shortly after the arrest of their friends. Four of them went on to file judicial affidavits in support of the accused couple, clearly stating:

  • That at no time did either of the accused attempt to recruit them.
  • The group of friends had asked him to travel with them, as he was an experienced international traveller. 
  • The arresting officer had coerced them into making a complaint against the accused by withholding their passports.

Points of evidence

Mr Birthisel said the case — which has been subject to countless adjournments and delays — has seen the following points of evidence revealed:

  • The arresting officer admitted in court that he found no evidence of Mr Birthisel recruiting or being involved in a recruitment company. 
  • All four of the witnesses presented against him stated in court that he never tried to recruit them at any time.
  • Four of the complainants filed judicial affidavits stating that he never tried to recruit them and that the arresting officer had coerced them into making a complaint.
  • Although his name appears at the top of the complaint form, there is no actual complaint of him engaged in any wrongdoing. 
  • All six complainants signed affidavits of desistance, stating they no longer wished to pursue the case. 
  • No actual evidence of him doing any wrong doing or breaking any laws was submitted against him in court during the prosecutor’s submission of witnesses. 
  • The prosecutor’s case, which was based on allegation and theories, all of which were presented without evidence.
  • Not once in court did the prosecutor raise the initial lewd and slanderous allegations that were published in papers and the internet. 
  • The Philippines Overseas Employment Agency (POEA)  have two process streams for employment, either using a POEA-registered company for recruitment, or Direct Hire,  where a person may locate a job and once employment contracts and country visa’s are issued,  only then the person would register with the POEA.

Philippine justice system

Lengthy incarcerations of foreign suspects without trial has often prompted criticism of the Philippine justice system.

In 2016, for example, American Scott McMahon was acquitted of two rape charges after waiting five years for his day in court. In a further injustice, even after being found not guilty and released, the Bureau of Immigration demanded fees of about $5,000 for overstaying his visa.

With a third application for bail posted as the trial continues to move at a snail’s pace, Mr Birthisel is not optimistic that his ordeal will be over anytime soon. In the meantime, he is appealing for help to buy food and clean drinking water.

So far, a Fundrazr campaign has raised more than $5,000 from dozens of well-wishers. For more information about Mr Birthisel’s plight, or to donate to his fund, click here.

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