This month, however, Mr. Duterte appeared to antagonize China by ordering the military to deploy to islands claimed by the Philippines. Mr. Lorenzana soon walked back those comments, however.
Mr. Duterte also recently said he would go to Pag-asa on the Philippines’ independence day in June to plant the country’s flag, but he later said he would not do so.
Mr. Lorenzana said on Friday that he went to Pag-asa to check the island’s facilities, saying that the runway needed repairs and that docks should be upgraded. He said a “beaching ramp” was to be built on the island before the typhoon season starts in July.
Apart from fixing the runway, the government has also earmarked $32 million for a fishing port, a power and desalination plant, a radio station and an ice plant. A marine research sanctuary is also being planned, as the government hopes to turn the area into a tourist attraction, Mr. Lorenzana said.
Mr. Lorenzana said he expected China to protest his trip and the development plans. “That protest is automatic. We both claim the region,” he said. “If they build in other areas in the region, we also protest.”
Pag-asa is considered an island municipality, attached to the island province of Palawan. It is occupied by troops and governed by an elected official, who also joined Mr. Lorenzana’s trip.
The trip coincided with a report that a group of Filipino fishermen had been fired on by the Chinese Coast Guard last month while sailing near the Union Banks atoll, also in the disputed region.
The Philippine Coast Guard said fishermen had reported that a Chinese Coast Guard speedboat had fired at them seven times after it dropped anchor in the area on March 27. The Chinese Embassy in Manila did not respond to requests for comment about the report.