Workers are seen mixing cement at a construction site in Quezon City, May 19, 2020. — PHILIPPINE STAR/ MICHAEL VARCAS

EXEMPTIONS are being sought for 18 infrastructure projects from the Commission on Elections’ (Comelec) public works ban during the election season, a National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA) official said.

“The DPWH (Department of Public Works and Highways) has shared to us the list of requested projects. It’s 18,” NEDA Undersecretary Roderick M. Planta said at a briefing on Monday, without identifying the projects.

The Comelec earlier said the public works ban for the May national elections will run from March 25 to May 8, 2022. Aimed at preventing politicians from using public resources for their election campaigns, the ban covers disbursement and spending as well as construction activity.

Pantheon Senior Asia Economist Miguel Chanco has said that these spending restrictions could slow down Philippine economic expansion this year.

NEDA, through the Cabinet-level Investment Coordination Committee (ICC), approved 30 infrastructure and development projects last year, including five new projects.

The five new projects include the Laguna Lakeshore Road Network Project, Davao City Expressway, Seismic Risk Reduction and Resilience Project, Panglao-Tagbilaran Bridge, and the Philippine Multisectoral Nutrition Project.

Mr. Planta in an e-mail said the 25 ongoing projects were valued at P1.02 trillion, while the five new projects are worth P290 billion.

He also said that the country’s infrastructure flagship projects have remained unchanged since May last year. The 112 projects in the list cost P4.687 trillion.

Meanwhile, the government gave itself higher scores in its pandemic-response scorecard in December.

NEDA Undersecretary Rosemarie G. Edillon said coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) infection management improved to 2.74 out of 3, higher than the 2.53 score in November. The vaccine rollout score increased to 2.2 from 2.02.

NEDA last year launched the government’s pandemic scorecard, which measures the country’s infection management, vaccine rollout, and socioeconomic recovery.

But NEDA was not able to release its socioeconomic recovery score due to the unavailability of international flight activities data, an indicator for economic recovery.

The Philippines ranked last or 53rd in the most recent Bloomberg COVID-19 resilience ranking released on Jan. 27 due to problems with deploying vaccines to remote areas.

At the same briefing, Socioeconomic Planning Secretary Karl Kendrick T. Chua said the proposal to remove the alert level system for lockdown restrictions “merits some serious thinking.”

“For the time being, since we are not yet fully out of the pandemic, this is something that I think we should presently retain,” he said.

In the meantime, he said the government would consider the idea as it looks into treating COVID-19 as endemic in the future.

Presidential Adviser for Entrepreneurship Jose Ma. A. Concepcion III has proposed that the Philippines shift away from the alert level system by March or April this year.

Metro Manila and seven other areas will be moved back to a more relaxed Alert Level 2 starting on Feb. 1, which would allow bigger indoor capacity for business activities. — Jenina P. Ibañez