If there was one name synonymous with providing free legal aid to the Filipino community in the UAE, it would be Barney Almazar.
The 37-year-old Filipino lawyer, who has been a Dubai resident for seven years, is the director of Gulf Law. He has been consistently listed as one of the '100 Most Influential Filipinos' in the region, mainly because of the free legal advice he gives to his kababayan (countrymen).
Last year, Almazar assisted a Filipino mother and her three children to waive a total of Dh712,400 in overstaying fines. He also helped a Filipino who fell into an investment scam. A UAE court made a landmark decision and ordered the restitution of Dh1 million to his client, giving hope to thousands of others embroiled in the multimillion-dollar scam.
"I cannot contain my happiness knowing that the family's harrowing experience after being victimised by fixers and overstaying in the UAE for years was finally over. For me, being able to assist someone to apply for pardon or amnesty brings immeasurable fulfillment especially when you know that they will finally be reunited with their family back home," Almazar told Khaleej Times, sharing his advocacy.
"The simple joy of seeing an overseas Filipino worker reunited with his family is the best reward for all the hard work I do for our modern-day heroes, who work tirelessly for their families back home."
Almazar writes a regular column titled 'Sagot ka ni Attorney' (loosely translated as 'An attorney will take care of you') for a Filipino weekly circulated in the UAE and he has created an interactive legal portal called 'Ask Atty Barney' for all legal inquiries, including labour, financial, and even marital matters.
He has also published and distributed 80,000 free copies of a comprehensive guidebook for Filipino expats titled 'The Essential OFW (overseas Filipino workers) Guide to UAE'.
He was awarded as one of 'The Outstanding Young Men (TOYM)' for law and commended by the Philippine Senate in 2015 "for his contribution in protecting the interests of more than three million overseas Filipinos in the Middle East".
"Just recently, I was able to personally present a copy of my book to President Rodrigo Duterte," Almazar said.
"He was delighted to know that the books were given for free in the UAE. My book was released more than three years ahead of Republic Act 11227 or 'The Handbook for Overseas Filipino Workers of 2018', which he signed into law on February 22," he added.
"The latest Philippine law mandates the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA) to develop, disseminate and update a handbook on the rights and responsibilities of migrant workers. Basically, it will address issues that they need to know in order to maintain decent employment conditions while working overseas," he explained.
Almazar has devoted his legal practice to protecting Filipino migrant workers not just in the UAE but also in other GCC countries. By his reckoning, he has assisted more than 40,000 OFWs in the monthly free legal aid clinic at the Philippine Embassy in Abu Dhabi and the Philippine Consulate in Dubai since 2014.
For him, one of the major challenges that an OFW has to deal with is getting access to legal aid.
"Making law accessible to an expatriate is not an easy task, especially when the laws are written in Arabic and interpretations are based on different customs and traditions," Almazar said.
"Most Filipino expats get into trouble when they assume that the laws of the UAE are similar to the laws of the Philippines."
It is for this reason that Almazar has been working tirelessly to break the legal dilemma by conducting free legal seminars and continuous information dissemination via print, TV, radio and social media.