Police suspect the attack was launched by a joint group of Abu Sayyaf and rogue Moro Islamic Liberation Front members, allegedly led by sub-leader Puruji Indama.
Indama has been blamed for the kidnapping of two Chinese and a Filipino worker from a plywood factory.
The two Chinese captives - Zi Shun Lu, a.k.a. Oscar Lu, 51; and Bo Shung Tan, a.k.a. Michael Tan, 27 - were rescued by government forces hours before the attack. [The Filipino hostage, Mark Singson, was beheaded after his employer, Hi-Tech Wood Craft Corporation, failed to pay ransom.]
Authorities said they could not ascertain if the attack had anything to do with the recent deaths of several Abu Sayyaf members, including Albader Parad, the man behind the kidnapping of International Red Cross volunteers.
His death could set back the militants' plans to disrupt elections in the south.
An Abu Sayyaf member involved in the kidnapping of several Europeans and one American in Malaysia back in 2000 was also arrested a few days ago.
The military has been expecting the small but violent Abu Sayyaf group, known for kidnappings, bombings and beheadings, to launch retaliatory attacks for Parad's death.
An army spokeswoman said villagers in Tubigan were asleep when the rebels came and started spraying houses with automatic gunfire, setting them on fire.
"Each rebel brought a gallon of gasoline, then they started torching the houses," said one member of a civilian militia force.
Hundreds of people have been displaced
The army said nearly 20 others were wounded, including four children who suffered third-degree burns. Those in critical conditions were taken to hospitals in Zamboanga City on the mainland.