Michael Wiener is in the middle of an unusual scandal, even by political standards. The Bernalillo County Commissioner was in the red light district of Angeles City, which is a top destination for sex tourists from across the world.
In other words, it is a destination for people to have sex with prostitutes — sometimes as young as 10 years old. Wiener denies being there for sex and told two media outlets that he was only there on a layover.
New Mexico Telegram spoke to John Keatley, of Seattle, the photographer who captured Wiener posing with four women in Angeles City, Philippines. Keatley spoke about why he was in Angeles City, his impressions of the city and its infamous Fields Avenue and about his encounter with the Bernalillo County Commissioner.
Keatley was in the Phillipines for Arts Aftercare, a non-profit that seeks to help survivors of slavery. Keatley and his friend, filmmaker Eric Becker, were to document the sexual slavery and sex trade in the Philippines for the group.
Arts Aftercare seeks to help victims, particularly of sexual exploitation, through art.
While in the Philippines, Keatley and Becker traveled to Fields Avenue — a notorious red light district in Angeles City.
Keathley was in the Philippines for over a week. “My job was to tell a story of these red light districts, who are these people, try to put a face to it,” he said.
And it wasn’t easy for Keatley.
“There’s just a heavy darkness there,” Keatley said of Fields Avenue. “It’s one of those things I’m not really sure I can explain.”
A word that Keatley used to describe the situation a number of times in the 25 minute interview was “uncomfortable.”
And for good reason.
The strip on Fields Avenue was “blatant” according to Keatley. It is a 4 kilometer run of bars and clubs “where essentially everyone is for sale.”
He said that it is clear after just ten minutes in the area what is going on.
“I don’t think it’s fair to make generalizations or to classify people, but at the same time, when you see 50-, 60-, 70-year old men holding hands with girls as young as 10-years old, when you see 50-, 60-year old men walking hand in hand with two or three girls at the same time who are a third their age or younger, I don’t care how you want to describe the relationship — it’s inappropriate and wrong,” Keatley said.
Keatley’s encounter with Wiener
Outside of a club that Keatley said was called ‘Texas’ or the ‘Texas Club’ (he could not recall the exact name of the club), Keatley and Becker met Wiener. This is the part of the story that has been documented by KOB and the Albuquerque Journal.
Keatley asked four women outside the club (all the clubs have women outside to help lure in traffic) if he could take their picture. They agreed, and as he was ready to take the picture, Keatley a man asked to have his picture taken with the girls.
The man, Wiener, asked his girlfriend who he was with if it was OK and she agreed. Then Wiener made a lewd joke, which Keatley said shocked him even in the area.
Keatley said Wiener said something to the effect of, ‘Hey girls, don’t touch my penis. Just kidding, you can touch it.’
Wiener denied saying that in an interview with KOB:
“I may have made a comment like don’t get too close to my girlfriends here, but I didn’t mention anything like that,” Wiener said.
And Wiener gave a different description the encounter to the Journal:
“I just wanted to take a quick tour,” he said. “It’d be like if people to go to Las Vegas and they want to go to the casinos, but they don’t gamble. I was just curious. I walked from one end to the other.”
Wiener said he ran into two Americans, and they wanted to take his picture.
Keatley says that Becker remarked that Fields Avenue reminded him of New Orleans and Wiener responded that Angeles City was nothing like New Orleans.
“You can have a lot more fun if you just open yourself up to it, you can have a really good time,” Keatley says he remembers Wiener saying. Keatley says he does not know the exact wording but it was something to that effect.
Eventually, Wiener provided an email address to the two so they could send him the pictures; Keatley said he and Becker found out who Wiener was when they got back to their hotel room later that night.
“So when we got back later that evening to our hotel room, we looked him up on Facebook and found out that he’s an elected official and it blew my mind.”
“I had no idea who he was and I never would have known who he was,” the photographer said. “Who knows what I even would have done with those pictures if he hadn’t have given me his email address?”
Keatley says he doesn’t believe Wiener’s story that he was only there on a layover.
From the interview:
I saw something today where he was saying that he was just there on a layover. He’d never been there before, he was just wanting to see what it was like. Well if he was there on a layover, we asked him what he was doing there and he said it was a long story. If you’re just there on a layover, why wouldn’t he just say, ‘I’m on a layover.’ What’s the long story? I’d be curious to know what that is.
Keatley says he just wants the story of what is going in the Philippines to be heard.
Even though he did not initially want to go to the trip because he felt it would make him uncomfortable, he says it is a story that needs to be told.
“We can’t just plead ignorance and close our eyes and expect the problem like this to go away,” Keatley said.
“I felt like it was important for me to at least do what I can to raise awareness.”