The non-performing loan (NPL) ratio of major banks in the Philippines significantly improved in the first quarter of this year, declining to 2.16 percent in March, the Philippine central band said on Wednesday. The bank said in a report that the bad loan of universal and commercial banks eased to 2.16 percent in March from 2.74 percent in the same month a year ago. Big banks saw a six-percent decrease in their soured loans to 93.32 billion pesos (2.13 billion U.S. dollars) at the end of March, while their total loan portfolios grew by 19 percent to 4. 33 trillion pesos (99 billion U.S. dollars). "Aside from keeping NPL levels low, the banks also continued to set aside robust provisioning for non-performing loans," the central bank said. Big banks increased their loan loss reserves to 141.22 percent as of March from 128.31 percent in the same period of last year. The central bank "monitors the loan quality of banks in line with supervisory efforts to foster prudent risk management," said the central bank report, adding that this is essential to financial stability, which is a key policy objective of the central bank.