According to the official report, the police were attacked by armed men with guns and machetes on Monday as they entered a settlement near the town of Beaufort, in the state of Sabah, and fired back.
Sabah Police Commissioner Hazani Ghazali noted in a statement that the attackers were believed to be from the Abu Sayyaf group, who are self-proclaimed Islamic militants whose stronghold is in the Muslim-majority southern Philippines.
According to The Star newspaper, one of the rebels was identified as Mabar Binda, a militant leader on the Philippine Police’s wanted list.
Abu Sayyaf, who has distant links with the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), has been responsible for some of the worst attacks in the Philippines lately.
Bombings and kidnappings of Western tourists and missionaries have taken place since the 1990s. They have often operated in poorly policed Philippine maritime areas bordering Malaysia and Indonesia.