Filipinos linked to ‘nonexistent’ UN-‘affiliated’ organization in Bangkok

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Edgar Eleguen (left) with Gion Gounet on July 22 at the “UN Headquarters” CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

On June 18, 2017, at the Bangkok Adventist Social Hall, 176 teachers and professionals from the Philippines and other nations were awarded with diplomas and a PhD “degree” during the first graduation rites held by the United Nations International Open University for International Humanity, Health, Science & Peace (UNIOUHHSP).

In formal attire and black togas, the proud graduates received their diplomas from Gion Gounet, “Ambassador of Goodwill for Visual Arts” and the university’s president, and Edgar B. Eleguen, “Consul Academic Dean of Indo-China Region”.

It actually took the “graduates” less than a day to get their degrees.

By paying a few thousand baht, a “student” can get a diploma after attending a seminar on what is called a Peace Mediation course and even an “ambassadorship” and various academic titles from the so-called UN Open University. They also receive a certificate on “International Commission of Diplomatic Relations, Human Rights and Peace” signed by a certain “Ambassador Major-General Lord Dr. Divakar Chandra Sarkar, the Grand Prince and Executive Vice President of the Grand Kingdom Dynasty Sarkar Sovereign Monarchy Government”.

On its public Facebook page, this “UN Open University” diploma allegedly grants students with credits for professional development, including the renewal of their teaching license from the Thailand Ministry of Education (Khrusapa). Moreover, the FB page “boosts the graduates’ visa application in the countries that are members of the United Nations.”

But what exactly is this institution? Who are Eleguen and Gounet? Is the UN Open University genuinely tied to the United Nations whose logos are displayed alongside the name of the organization and emblazoned on its documentation, including online content?

The graduation photo of UN Open University on June 18, 2017 in Bangkok. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

 

Partners for Change

Edgar B. Eleguen, the self-styled Consul/Academic Dean, is originally from Davao City, in the southern Philippines. He studied at Saint Paul University, Manila, majoring in Choral Conducting and Voice.

He is currently the President of Duterte’s Partners for Change Thailand OFW (Partners for Change). He teaches at Sarasas Romklao which bills itself as a bilingual school in Bangkok.

“He was good, nice back then. I looked up to him. I was just surprised that he could do things like that, creating stories, telling lies and proud of it,” according to a former student of Eleguen in Davao who requested anonymity due to fear of reprisal.

Gion V. Gounet, whose real name is Gibson Guibone, is from Butuan City. He was a medical student in Velez, Cebu, but eventually dropped out. He tried to run for a Senate seat in 2016 but was declared a nuisance senatorial candidate by the Supreme Court. Gounet, or Guibone, also reportedly claimed that he is an Ambassador-at-Large at something called the “International Commission of Diplomatic Relations Human”.

An informant from the Philippines, who also spoke on condition of anonymity, said that Gounet is a “close friend” of one Mr. Sarkar, an Indian national based in the Philippines and purportedly the Grand Prince of an entity called the Kingdom of Sarkar which has its own Facebook page as well, where it too claims to be recognized by the United Nations.

Donjie Mejia Bardos, a Filipino teaching at Sunflower Trilingual School in Samutsakorn, Bangkok, is listed as Vice Academic Dean for the UN Open University and was conferred with a doctoral degree on June 18, 2017. He is also Internal Executive Officer at Partners for Change.

The UN Open University is reportedly under the “Grand Kingdom Dynasty Sarkar Sovereign Monarchy Government”. It has a consulate and/or embassy at Interlaken, Switzerland, according to its Facebook page. It appears to have an office in Singapore as well, but upon checking, the office was non-existent.

The group claims that the university is recognized by the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs (DESA) and is registered as part of the global civil society network of the United Nations. http://csonet.org.

However, upon typing the organization’s name at the UN DESA website, this appeared:

“A profile in this database and on this website does not and of itself connote any affiliation with the United Nations, unless such affiliation is expressly indicated, i.e., by identifying the type of ECOSOC consultative status held by an NGO.”

In other words, this “UN Open University” is not affiliated with the United Nations at all.

A diploma and a medal issued to a “graduate.” CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

A further check revealed that the UN Open University does not have a physical location, but actively promotes its activities through social media, such as Facebook and YouTube. It does so by prominently using the emblems of the United Nations and the World Health Organization as its logo.

Uncovering the fraud

The UN Open University operates mainly through social media. Since Eleguen is a teacher and a known church leader of the Seventh Day Adventist, he has established connections with several Filipino members of the same Church.

A source revealed that Eleguen is a charismatic person who can persuade a person to join his cause.

“He has people who are working with him. They use social media, mainly Facebook to attract people and also through word of mouth,” the source said.

There are around 17,000 Filipinos in Thailand working as teachers, development workers, nannies, entertainers, and engineers. Since 2016, the Ministry of Education implemented stricter rules in giving teacher’s license to non-teaching professionals who are into teaching practice. Thus, a promise of diploma in just a few hours and a thousand baht is a catch for many Filipino migrants who are in danger of losing their teaching licenses.

But Eleguen reportedly chooses his applicants.

This writer posted a message on his Facebook page in April inquiring about the Peace Mediation course. Eleguen never replied and the post was deleted. It also happened to other persons who asked for more details.

A Filipino co-teacher of Bardos who refused to be named alleged that all the communications and documents of the “UN” are made at Sunflower school. Bardos is said to be the right hand of Eleguen. He is also allegedly in-charge of the recruitment of applicants.

“Why is he still teaching if he (Bardos) has a doctorate degree and an official of a university?” the person said.

Due to the prestigious nature of the name, not only Filipinos but Thais as well, are lured by the group. On June 18, a few minutes after the so-called graduation, Filipinos posted the event on social media.

To verify the claim of UNIOUHHSP, an inquiry was sent to Ratana Sripaeng, the in-charge of processing of documents at the Khrusapa (Teachers’ Council of Thailand). She said that an applicant’s degree must be checked if it was from an accredited college/university recognized or approved by the accrediting organization of the country where it was awarded. Since the diploma issued is not affiliated to any country except “UN-DESA”, the applicant needs to have it authenticated by the UN-DESA in the United States.

“Initially, (when) I check(ed) I have never found applicants who graduated from this institution to ask for a teaching license,” Sripaeng wrote in an e-mail.

Fuad Pashayev of the Sector for External Relations and Public Information Programme of Unesco Honorary and Goodwill Ambassadors, said that Gion Gounet has “never been involved with Unesco in his capacity as a Unesco Goodwill Ambassador”.

‘Not affiliated’

The operation of UNIOUHHSP in Bangkok was brought to the attention of Roy Wadia, Regional Communications Advisor of UNFPA (United Nations Population Fund) in Asia and the Pacific in July.

Flier used to promote the Peace Mediation course and workshop. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

In an email, Wadia said that after informing the United Nations Office of Legal Affairs at UN headquarters in New York about this issue, it took a “bit of time” for the Office of Legal Affairs to investigate the matter because there is no physical mailing addresses of the persons involved and “it appears there is no actual physical presence for this so-called university, but it appears to hold sessions at various locations in Bangkok and its environs”.

Actually in December 2010, the UN had issued a cease and desist demand to Gounet from his earlier unauthorized use of the United Nations name and emblem in a different context, and from making any false representations about his identity using the name of the United Nations. This was also made known to the Permanent Mission of the Philippines to the UN in New York since Gounet was based in the Philippines at that time. However, Gounet has apparently kept on with his “ambassadorship”.

On August 25, 2017, the UN Office of Legal Affairs in New York issued a statement regarding the fraudulent use of the name of United Nations and its emblem for any purposes without authorization.

We wish to clarify that the United Nations, including its Funds and Programmes and other subsidiary organs, is in no way affiliated with OUHHSP and has no involvement with its activities, including online educational programs, seminars or other events. We further wish to underscore, that OUHHSP is using the name and emblem of the United Nations without authorization and fraudulently.

Additionally, we understand that at least two persons directly linked with the activities of OUHHSP, a Mr. Gion Gounet and a Mr. Edgar B. Eleguen, have been using the titles “UN Goodwill Ambassador for Visual Arts” and “UN Ambassador,” respectively. We wish to clarify that none of these two individuals is employed by, affiliated with, or endorsed by the United Nations, including its Funds and Programmes and other subsidiary organs.”

The source said that on Sunday, August 27, the OUHHSP held its second graduation rites at Marriot Hotel in Bangkok. Doctorate degrees were conferred. However, only a few participants showed up. There were more guests than the graduates, the sources added.

The Philippine Embassy in Bangkok was already informed of the current situation in April this year. It has, as of this writing, yet to issue a statement against the activity of OUHHSP or to the Filipinos involved.

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