DOLE assures aid to kin of 2 OFWs killed in UAE restaurant blast

MANILA – The government has assured financial assistance and other benefits to the families of the two overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) who were killed in a gas explosion at a restaurant in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates on Monday.

In a statement on Wednesday, Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III assured that the families of the victims, Clark Bacud Gasis and Merriner Goc-ong Bertoces, will each receive PHP120,000 bereavement assistance.

“They will also get insurance benefits if they are qualified members of the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA),” he said.

The Philippine Overseas Labor Office (POLO) in Abu Dhabi reported that a total of 10 Filipinos, including two children, figured in the explosion reportedly caused by a gas leak inside a Kentucky Fried Chicken (KFC) restaurant along Airport Road on August 31.

The explosion instantly killed Gasis, 39, an electrical draftsman from Surigao del Sur, and Bertoces, 26, an employee at the restaurant, from Negros Oriental.

Also, Bello added that OWWA would be ready to provide additional aid allowed by law to the families of the victims.

“We will extend to them all the support the government can provide,” he said.

The blast also injured eight other Filipinos. Six of them were immediately taken to the Sheik Khalifa Medical Center (SKMC) for treatment.

Five of the injured have already been discharged while the other one identified as Rodel Paclibar, also a KFC-Abu Dhabi staff member, remains at the hospital for further observation.

A total of 28 persons including other nationals were involved in the deadly blast, reports said.

Meanwhile, an official of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines-Episcopal Commission on Migrants and Itinerant People (CBCP-ECMI) urged the people to continue to pray for all OFWs.

“We just honor our living heroes last August 31, they are our OFWs and the Medical front liners. Now we lost two OFWs in line of their works. We see the difficulties and dangers they are into and daily undergoing. So, the more we have to pray for them, appreciate their sacrifices and services, to protect themselves,” said Bishop Ruperto Santos, vice chairman of the CBCP-ECMI in a statement.

At the same time, he offered prayers for the victims and their families.

“We, at CBCP-ECMI, commend their souls to God’s mercy and we are praying for strength of their families to hold on to God and rise up from this tragic event,” the Catholic prelate added.

Santos also lauded Filipino officials in the host country for the help extended to the victims and their families.

“We are also grateful for help and assistance rendered by our Philippine embassy officials to our two OFWs and their families. Let us always pray for our OFWs and do always what is best for them,” he said. (PNA)

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Massive office landlord Vornado is planning to install face-reading cameras to track tenants in all of its buildings— including one where Facebook just inked a big lease

  • Vornado Realty Trust began installing facial recognition systems in buildings it owns in New York City five years ago. 
  • The company, one of the city’s largest commercial landlords with 19 million square feet across 35 buildings, recently expanded its use of the tech to 11 buildings and plans to roll it out across its entire portfolio.
  • The coronavirus pandemic has prompted landlords to scramble to create seamless and touchless methods for tenants to pass through lobby security and dispatch elevators. 
  • Vornado believes its use of facial recognition could help it encourage tenants to return to the pot-Covid workplace.  
  • Vornado executives say the company uses facial recognition responsibly, allowing tenants to opt in and out voluntarily and securing and anonymizing the data. 

Vornado Realty Trust, among New York City’s largest office landlords, said it uses facial recognition in portions of its expansive portfolio and plans to expand its use of the controversial technology as workers are expected to migrate back to the office in the coming months.

The nearly $7 billion public company, which controls 19 million square feet across 35 properties in Manhattan, is one of the only major commercial landlords to embrace face reading, a technology that has raised public concerns over surveillance and privacy.

In a conversation with Business Insider, Vornado executives described the company’s deployment of facial recognition in detail for the first time, stating that it was part of a push to modernize its buildings technologically in recent years and create more convenient entry systems for tenants.

Read More: Facial-recognition could be coming to your office. Here’s how companies are pitching the tech to landlords and trying to allay privacy concerns.

Touchless methods that allow employees in large office buildings to quickly pass through lobby security and dispatch an elevator have gained importance amid the coronavirus pandemic as tenants have become concerned about the transmission of germs in public spaces and the workplace.

Vornado has used facial-recognition in some office buildings for the past five years

In Vornado’s case, the company has employed face-reading systems in its buildings for the past five years, it said, positioning it as a potential leader in creating the kind of accessibility that landlords hope will encourage a return to the office.

“We are constantly looking to adopt new, cutting-edge technologies that will make our buildings more efficient and life more convenient for our tenants,” said David Greenbaum, Vornado’s vice chairman and one of the company’s senior leaders. 

Greenbaum said that he first began discussing the technology with Vornado’s chairman and CEO, Steve Roth, about six years ago after noticing that some tenants in Vornado properties had to carry with them two entry cards, one to clear through a building’s turnstiles and another to access the doors to their specific space.

Read More: Facebook just reached a blockbuster deal to lease the massive Farley Building in NYC as a tech and engineering hub. Here’s why it’s a huge win for a shaken office market.

Facial recognition offered the promise of creating an entry credential that required no phone, wallet, or access card.

Prior to 2020, the company installed the systems in 5 of its buildings. It later sold one of those office properties, leaving the company with 4 buildings where facial recognition is in operation. This year it accelerated work to install the technology in 7 additional buildings after Covid-19 hit. Those systems are now operational.

The company plans to install face-reading systems in its entire portfolio, but has not laid out a timeline when that work will be complete. Among the buildings where it will soon deploy the technology are One and Two Penn Plaza, large office properties that the company is in the process of extensively renovating. Among the buildings where face reading is already in operation is the large Midtown office tower, 1290 Avenue of the Americas, and 340 West 34th Street, where Amazon has offices.

Vornado will also have face-reading cameras at the Farley Building, where it just signed a blockbuster lease with Facebook to occupy the over 700,000 square feet of office space at the property, which Vornado is redeveloping.  

How office workers can opt in to facial recognition 

Tenants can opt in and out of the system voluntarily and there is about a 40% participation rate in the 4 properties that had the technology prior to 2020, a total of about 6,000 of the 15,000 office employees who work in those properties. 

“Virtually everyone who has used the technology has liked it,” Greenbaum said. “I never had a preconceived notion of what the adoption rate would be, but as our tenants see others using it, they are becoming increasingly comfortable with the technology.”

It isn’t clear yet what the participation rate will be in the 7 properties where the technology was recently brought online because most tenants haven’t yet returned to the workplace, Vornado said.

Gaston Silva, the company’s New York area chief operating officer, said that tenants who participate have their photo taken and that their biometric data is stored anonymously in onsite systems.

“Every face is assigned a number that is disassociated from someone’s identity,” Silva said. “The information is encrypted and stored on systems that cannot be accessed from the internet.”

Many landlords have shied away from using facial recognition technology, especially as controversies have erupted over its use.

China uses it to surveil its citizens and oppress the Uyghurs, a minority population of Muslim citizens along its western border, actions that have drawn worldwide condemnation.

Clearview AI created an algorithm that pulled billions of faces from pictures posted on the internet, creating a database that could be used to identify nearly anyone.

“Based on my conversations with tenants, many find the concept of facial recognition to be creepy and they are opposed to the idea,” said Craig Deitelzweig, CEO of Marx Realty, which has a portfolio of 4.6 million square feet of commercial space.

Facial-recognition proponents insist there are ethical ways to use the technology, including by taking the key steps of receiving consent from participants, securely storing their data, being transparent how it is used, and giving participants the right to opt out.

Vornado has used third-party facial reading technology and outside vendors to help it deploy the systems in its buildings, partners it declined to name. On its website, Vornado states that it uses the security company GMSC, which is owned by Vornado and has its headquarters in the Vornado-owned office building Eleven Penn Plaza, to help it manage tenants and visitor access to its buildings and “biometric facial recognition installation and enrollment assistance.”

GMSC, on its website, says it handles security work for Amazon, Facebook, and Bloomberg, all three of which are tenants in Vornado’s New York portfolio.

Subsequent to deploying face-reading systems, Vornado developed mobile applications that allow tenants to use their smart phone to pass through lobby security. Some tenants prefer facial recognition, Greenbaum said.

“In fact, facial recognition is easier than using your phone,” Greenbaum said. “If you are on a call when you enter the building, you likely would prefer not to move the phone from your ear in order to bring it closer to the turnstile.”

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SEE ALSO: Facebook just reached a blockbuster deal to lease the massive Farley Building in NYC as a tech and engineering hub. Here’s why it’s a huge win for a shaken office market.

SEE ALSO: Facial-recognition could be coming to your office. Here’s how companies are pitching the tech to landlords and trying to allay privacy concerns.

SEE ALSO: Mandatory temperature-taking is largely seen as a critical way to return workers to offices. But some big NYC landlords are worried about its effectiveness.

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