Manila: Communist rebels freed six pearl farm workers in the southern Philippines but came under fire for the abduction of two policemen, also in the south, a TV report said.

The New People’s Army (NPA) released three guards and three boat operators whom they had abducted after raiding Salvamar Pearl Farm to obtain guns, Chief Police Inspector Jeffry Mendiola, of Taytay, Palawan, told ABS CBN, a TV network. The pearl farm is located in Palawan, south-western Philippines, .

Dressed as soldiers, some 20 NPA members initially questioned farm managers about the licenses of the guns issued to their guards on Monday.

The rebels then grabbed the guns and took hostages as they escaped from the farm, Mendiola said. The hostages were freed unharmed later on the same day.

Meanwhile, police officers Ronald Allan Nuñez and Nemuel España, were abducted by armed men at Poblacion village in Agusan del Sur at 11pm on Monday night, ABS CBN also reported.

The leftist group’s known targets are men in uniform, but the NPA has not yet claimed responsibility for the abduction.

The NPA, the armed wing of the 46-year old Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP), has been blamed for the abduction of security guards and policemen, and the torching of light and heavy industrial equipment belonging to companies that refuse to pay revolutionary taxes.

The Philippine government and the communist National Democratic Front (NDF), which is composed of progressive groups, including the CPP-NPA, have been engaged in on and off peace talks since 1992. They have inked several initial agreements since then.

In 2004, the NDF refused to return to the negotiating table after the United States and the European Union included the CPP-NPA on the list of foreign terror groups.

Formal talks resumed in 2010, but talks were stalled anew after the NDF rejected a government initiative that proposed the forging of a ceasefire agreement.

At the same time, the Philippine government also refused the NDF’s demand for the release of political prisoners who were leftist peace consultants in the peace negotiations.

The NPA’s current strength is believed to be at 5,000 rebels, much lower than the 20,000 at its height in the 70s, during the time of former dictator Ferdinand Marcos.

At the time, the Maoist-inspired group controlled the majority of villages and municipalities in far-flung areas where government services were almost nil.

Its influence in these areas has remained strong.