A PHILIPPINE senate committee is calling for a purge of top ranking officials at the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) in what is being called one of the worst scandals for years. At least three officials in the department have been blamed for widespread fraud in awarding billions of pesos worth of contracts to rehabilitate damaged areas around Mount Pinatubo. ''Everything that could possibly go wrong with a major relief and rehabilitation effort happened in the case of the Mount Pinatubo effort,'' the senate Blue Ribbon Committee said in a scathing 41-page report. Mr Ernesto Maceda, chairman of the 13-member committee, described the anomalies as ''the worst, most scandalous, most unconscionable and most terrible'' he has witnessed in six years as a member of the Philippine senate. He said the scandal was a ''tragic-comic tale held together by threads of greed and stupidity''. As the probe widens, anomalies were found in work performed by up to 70 per cent of the firms contracted by the government to rehabilitate damaged areas in central Luzon Island. In its initial findings, the committee found: millions of pesos were spent on the construction of ''inefficient and inappropriate'' dams; many contractors awarded multi-million peso contracts were not qualified - some had no offices or trucks and others handed their contracts to dummy companies; firms which built faulty dams that were washed away were in some cases paid in full for their work; the DPWH maintained almost no system of checks and balances. In one highlighted case, a firm which said it had not worked any Pinatubo-related projects was listed by the DPWH as having received contracts worth 75.6 million pesos (HK$23.7 million). The committee also found several irregularities in the building of relocation settlements for Pinatubo refugees. In some instances, materials were intentionally over-priced. Most of the work involved the clearing of hundreds of tonnes of ash and debris from roads, drainage systems and rivers. The series of anomalies have become popularly known as the ''laharscam '', after the local word for the volcanic lava flows which covered tens of thousands of hectares of land. Committee member Mr Ramon Revilla has called for an in-depth investigation into the department. The DPWH secretary, Mr Jose de Jesus, for years one of the star members of the cabinet, has also been recommended for investigation. Undersecretary Mr Teodoro Encarnacion, a 33-year veteran of the civil service, was named by the committee as the highest ranking official in the DPWH connected with the anomalies. Mr Maceda said Mr Encarnacion was liable for ''gross negligence in the supervision of projects and funds'' earmarked for Mount Pinatubo operations. The recommendations and findings were based on 19 public hearings and testimony from 60 witnesses, including contractors, governors, lahar experts and other government officials. The office of the ombudsman also participated in the probe. Mount Pinatubo, 100 kilometres northwest of Manila, killed 800 in 1991 in the fourth largest explosive eruption this century. It left hundreds of thousands homeless and is believed to have altered weather patterns worldwide. The eruption forced the US Air Force to abandon Clark Air Base, located 16 km east of the volcano. Since the eruption, the government has spent about 10 billion pesos for Pinatubo relief and rehabilitation projects.