Gunfire rang out at the Camp Bagong Diwa prison on Monday as police special weapons and tactics units, some inside an armoured personnel carrier, surrounded one building in the compound where the armed Abu Sayyaf prisoners were holed up on the second floor.
The inmates had overpowered their guards and grabbed two assault rifles and a handgun in an early morning melee, said Metropolitan Manila police chief Avelino Razon.
Police spokesman Superintendent Jun Cruz said "more or less eight to 10 inmates" may have been involved in the escape attempt.
Some 100 other prisoners were held on the other floors of the building, Cruz said.
"They (fighters) are confined in one building. They cannot go
out," he added.
"We are trying to defuse the situation. We have deployed snipers and a negotiating team," Razon said.
Cruz said three guards and one prisoner had been killed two hours into the stand-off.
Shooting subsided by mid-morning as the authorities used loud speakers to try to convince the fighters to surrender.
"They (fighters) are confined in one building. They cannot go out"
Metropolitan Manila police chief
Other police sources, however, put the toll at six, including four Abu Sayyaf inmates and two prison guards. The sources said a prisoner and a guard were wounded.
A photographer at the scene saw two casualties, both wearing the uniforms of prison guards, being taken out on stretchers and loaded on to ambulances.
Other inmates at the prison called up a local radio station in a bid to open negotiations with the authorities.
They said the fighters were holding about 100 inmates hostage, including Chinese nationals held on drugs charges.
But police dismissed the hostage report, saying the armed prisoners had been isolated in one section of the compound and the other prisoners were secured.
"We are negotiating with the suspects inside," Cruz said, adding that the armed inmates wanted to hold talks with two prominent Muslim personalities, including movie actor and Muslim convert Robin Padilla and southern Philippines Muslim legislator Mujib Hataman.
There is a heavy army presence
in Basilan, Abu Sayyaf's base
Padilla was abroad and efforts were being made to reach Hataman, Cruz said. The legislator said on local radio earlier on Monday that he did not know the fighters.
The shooting was the latest in a series of jailbreak attempts involving detained Muslim fighters in the Philippine capital.
The prison, located in the headquarters of the Metropolitan Manila police, holds suspects arrested for terrorism-related cases, including Abu Sayyaf and Jemaah Islamiya members.
Abu Sayyaf has been waging a bombing and kidnapping campaign in the southern Philippines while Jemaah Islamiya was blamed for the Bali bomb blasts that killed 202 people in Indonesia in 2002.