By Jenina P. Ibañez, Reporter

INVESTMENT PLEDGES approved by the Philippine Economic Zone Authority (PEZA) increased by almost 54% in the first quarter after coming off a low base last year.

PEZA in a report on Wednesday said that investments went up 53.87% to P25.382 billion based on 57 newly approved projects.

The investment promotion agency saw approved investments slide by nearly 30% in the first quarter of 2020, after its board failed to meet during the initial strict lockdown aimed at containing the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic.

The investments approved so far this year could generate around 5,601 jobs.

Among the 57 projects, 43 will be in Luzon, while 10 will be in Visayas and 4 will be in Mindanao.

For those registered as business enterprises, 22 are export projects, while 15 are for information technology and seven are for facilities. Three of the projects are for logistics, while there is one project each for utilities and tourism.

The remaining eight projects are for economic zone development.

PEZA in mid-April found that 90% of its companies continued to operate amid the renewed lockdown restrictions. The manufacturing sector is 94% operational, while outsourcing operations are at 84%.

Exports of companies registered at ecozones increased by almost 16% to $14.93 billion in the first three months of 2021.

“Employment in ecozones has also increased to 2.94% which is equivalent to 1.58 million workers compared to 1.53 million workers a year ago,” the agency said.

PEZA Director-General Charito B. Plaza said that ecozones continue to operate while upholding health protocols.

“With the approval of new projects and increase in the investments and exports in the first quarter of 2021, this proves that PEZA is unfaltering in keeping the Philippine economy afloat and being on top of its game in performing its mandate, mobilizing the country’s investment competitiveness, and creating employment opportunities for many Filipinos,” she said.

Ms. Plaza had said that PEZA approved a P1.5-billion Israeli-Filipino investment to manufacture COVID-19 oral vaccines in the Philippines.

The Savepoint Biotech, Inc. and the Israeli state funded MIGAL Galilee Research Institute partnership will put up manufacturing operations in the Pampanga Economic Zone that would supply medical products to Asia, she said.

Investment approvals from the Board of Investments — which accounts for the bulk of planned projects registered with investment promotion agencies — went up by 66% to P138 billion in the first quarter.