FORMER Boyne Island sporting identity Troy Birthisel has made an emotional plea for justice after three years in a Philippine jail.
Mr Birthisel, who grew up in the Gladstone region and played senior Australia Rules football for the Boyne Island-Tannum Sands Saints, has been in Lapu-Lapu City Jail in the Philippines since he was arrested in 2013.
Mr Birthisel, along with his Filipino girlfriend Lovely Jane Modina, was charged with attempting to traffic six women to Singapore.
Singapore media reported Filipino prosecutors alleged the couple lured the women to work as waitresses or housekeeping staff of hotels and resorts throughout Australia.
Mr Birthisel and Ms Modina were both detained at the Lapu-Lapu City Police Office with the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA) refusing to issue a clearance, claiming their purpose for travelling to Singapore was dubious.
The couple was subsequently charged with violation of the Anti-Trafficking in Persons Act of 2003 and the Migrant Workers and Overseas Filipinos Act of 1996.
Talking to The Observer from his jail cell, Mr Birthisel claims these charges have since been thrown out by the prosecutor.
"Yet I still found myself charged and detained for illegal recruitment," he said.
He said his case had been adjourned 20 times and "nothing happens after lodging motions for bail and waiting for the review and petitions to hear the motions".
As a child, Mr Birthisel attended Benaraby Primary School and Toolooa State High School.
Mr Birthisel said he was in the Philippines to attend a baptism, but was asked to travel with his girlfriend Ms Modina and her group of friends who were going for a job interview in Singapore.
"I saw no harm in ensuring they were able to travel safely, especially considering my background being in health and safety," Mr Birthisel said.
"We were initially stopped at Manila airport because the girls didn't have exit clearances, but on checking with the governing body of overseas jobs, we were informed this was not the case as they were only going for an interview.
"Additionally, we took further advice from a private recruitment company. Again we were told that we were doing nothing wrong as they were only attending an interview, and that all the return tickets et cetera were in place. So they advised us to use another airport."
Three years later Mr Birthisel is still behind bars after police arrested the then 45-year-old and his girlfriend at Cebu Airport.
Mr Birthisel claims that without government assistance, he fears that he will die in jail.
He has sent regular messages to friends detailing his struggles in jail.
He said there are about 130 fellow prisoners in the same building he is in.
"The jail is very overcrowded. It was only built for 400 to 500," he said. "At times hygiene is not too bad, then other times it is horrible."
A fundraising website has been started by friends to raise funds so that he can get another lawyer. Mr Birthisel claims he "has been lied to by attorneys and even had them steal from me".
"I have finally found an honest hardworking attorney but need help to meet my legal defence costs."
He also claims he has to purchase food and water along with bedding.
"This will be Christmas number four," Mr Birthisel said.
"I've lived the last few years on the generosity of a few friends. I've lost everything I own."
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