The Philippines is prioritizing the security of its territories, Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said on Monday, amid China’s militarization of disputed reefs in the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea).

In his speech during the commemoration of the National Flag Day in Malolos, Bulacan, Lorenzana said addressing the issue of China’s provocative actions would require unity among Filipinos.

“Territorial defense is still our main priority that will effectively secure the integrity and sovereignty of our country,” he added.

Lorenzana said the country was facing several problems such as terrorism, climate change and destruction of the environment, poverty, corruption, transnational crimes and cybercrimes and encroachment of territories.

“We will also be on alert for those groups who are aiming to ruin our democracy and peace. We will not let the idealism of anger to prosper, hence, we will put a stop on this to maintain peace and security,” he stressed.

Lorenzana’s remarks came after reports from the US-based think tank Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative (AMTI) and several media outlets showed Chinese construction work in the areas owned by the Philippines within the disputed territories, including Subi (Zamora) reef, Mischief (Panganiban) reef and Fiery Cross (Kagitingan) reef.

The Defense chief, as well as the military, were tight-lipped over the issue or deferring the matter to the Department of Foreign Affairs.

President Rodrigo Duterte had softened his stance toward China’s military buildup in the disputed areas, even announcing that Chinese President Xi Jinping had vowed that Beijing would not allow his ouster.

Over the weekend, AMTI also released a double-feature study revealing that Manila had begun its reconstruction of the collapsed runway on Pag-asa (Thitu) Island.

Lorenzana did not make any comment nor confirmation regarding the developments in the island. (Kalayaan Island Group).