MANILA, Philippines (AP) _ A former rebel leader went into hiding after surviving an ambush by Communist insurgents in which eight of his companions died, the military said Monday.

Lt. Col. Juanito Aquias said Conrado Balweg, a former Roman Catholic priest who was once the nation's best-known guerrilla leader, sent word through seven surviving companions that he was safe following the Sunday night ambush in Abra province, about 200 miles north of Manila.

Aquias, the deputy regional police commander for northern Luzon, said the rebels attacked an army patrol sent Monday to retrieve the bodies of Balweg's companions. Three soldiers were injured in the attack, he said, and four soldiers were missing.

Military sources said Balweg apparently was hiding in the mountains of Abra, his home province.

Balweg left the priesthood in 1979 to join the communist insurgency. He broke with the Communist New People's Army in April 1986, two months after President Corazon Aquino took power, and organized the rival Cordillera People's Liberation Army to fight for autonomy in the five-province Cordillera mountain region of northern Luzon.

Balweg and government negotiators reached an agreement on regional autonomy earlier this year. Mrs. Aquino has not approved the pact because of his demand that the Cordillera army be responsible for security in the region.

A military report said Balweg's group was ambushed as it was on its way to a meeting with his army on the autonomy issue.

The communist insurgents had vowed to kill Balweg for breaking ranks and allying with Mrs. Aquino.

The attempt on Balweg was the latest in a series of attacks this month on police, government officials and locally prominent figures throughout the country.

Two weeks ago, former NPA leader Bernabe Buscayno was wounded in an ambush in a Manila suburb. Rightist extremists have been blamed for the attack on Buscayno, who left the rebels and ran unsuccessfully for congress.

Forty-six policemen and soldiers have been slain in the Manila area this year. Authorities blame many of the killings on rebels.