Eleven prisoners, led by a communist guerrilla, escaped from a provincial jail in the eastern Philippines after killing two guards and wounding two others, police said Wednesday.

The jail break took place Tuesday afternoon in Dancalan in Nothern Samar province, about 480 kilometers (300 miles) southeast of Manila, said police Chief Superintendent Eliseo de la Paz, adding that police launched a manhunt for the fugitives.

"My order is to shoot them on sight once they resist arrest," de la Paz said, describing them as armed and dangerous.

CountryWatch: Philippines

He said an initial investigation showed one of the inmates armed himself with a smuggled gun and shot a guard on Tuesday. Other guards rushed in after hearing the gunfire, but were overpowered by other inmates.

A second guard was killed and two others wounded in the ensuing melee before the prisoners escaped, de la Paz said. He said the guards were hospitalized in serious condition.

De la Paz said the prison houses more than 200 inmates, locked up in single cells.

The escaped inmates were led by a suspected communist rebel hit man, Jessie Galecio, whom de la Paz described as "a known escape artist" who had twice bolted jail before being recaptured. The other inmates were facing murder and homicide charges, he said.

"Right now, we're trying to find out how the .45 pistol ended up in the hands of the prisoners without being detected by the jail officers. This is obviously negligence on their part," he said.

Police said it was the 17th jail break in the country this year, and that a total of 76 inmates had escaped. Last year, police reported 51 jail breaks leading to the escape of 141 inmates.

Philippine prisons have a reputation for being some of the world's most porous because of frequent jail breaks blamed on dilapidated facilities, corrupt guards and harsh conditions.