CONSTRUCTION STARTS, as measured by approved building permits, fell 22.4% in the first quarter, with all segments posting declines during the period, the Philippine Statistics Authority said.

Building permits totaled 30,838 during the quarter, against 39,762 a year earlier.

The project applications proposed to build 7.903 million square meters of space and were valued at P86.072 billion, down 20.1%.

Permits for residential construction, which accounted for 66.5% of all approved building permits, declined 25.5% year on year to 20,515.

Permits to build duplexes/quadruplexes fell 35.1% to 235 units, followed by apartments/accessories (-31.1% to 1,818), single houses (-24.8% to 18,400), residential condominiums (-14.3% to 24), other residential (-13.6% to 38).

Approved applications for non-residential construction declined 10.8% to 5,755.

Approved permits for agricultural structures declined 40.7% to 240, followed by those for “other non-residential buildings” (-33.3% to 118), institutional buildings (-22.4% to 1,065), industrial buildings (-19.8% to 535), and commercial buildings (-0.8% to 3,797).

Approved permits to build additions to current structures declined 26.4% to 1,163, while applications to conduct alterations and repairs fell 19% to 3,405.

CALABARZON — the region immediately south and east of Metro Manila consisting of the provinces of Cavite, Laguna, Batangas, Rizal, and Quezon — had the most approved building permits with 5,600 or 18.2% of the total. Next was the Central Visayas with 4,722 or 15.3%, followed by the Ilocos Region with 3,048 or 9.9%.

UnionBank of the Philippines, Inc. Chief Economist Ruben Carlo O. Asuncion said the latest results reflect the impact of the Taal Volcano eruption in early January and the lockdowns that began in mid-March.

“The enhanced community quarantine that was implemented in the latter part of March was the game-changer… When everything was asked to stop, all construction had to stop as well, and even the ones that are still to be implemented had to stop altogether,” Mr. Asuncion said in an e-mail.

After confirmed COVID-19 (coronavirus disease 2019) cases

rose to the hundreds in mid-March, President Rodrigo R. Duterte locked down areas with concentrations of the disease.

“I believe that the worst is over for the construction sector, at this point. Although the second quarter may post the worst-ever decline for approved building permits, the rest of the year may see an improving outlook as the world gets a better grip on COVID-19 and its characteristics,” Mr. Asuncion said. — Jobo E. Hernandez