Story highlights

Comments come amid tense time in US-Philippine relation

Philippine president referred to Obama as a "son of a bitch" earlier this month

Perfecto Yasay's speech was largely complimentary of US

CNN  — 

The Philippines top diplomat has told a forum in Washington that his country “cannot forever be the little brown brothers of America.”

Philippines Foreign Secretary Perfecto Yasay made the comments after a speech at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington Thursday, during which he described the US relationship with the Philippines as cooperative and symbiotic.

“We will always view the United States as an esteemed and trusted ally with whom we share not just a common history and shared values, but a common destiny as well.”

The “little brown brothers” comment came during a Q+A session.

The phrase is used in the Philippines to refer to people that are trying to act like they’re American. It’s a bit jocular with a slight derogatory insinuation.

Here’s what he said:

“Even before America became a colonial power in the Philippines… the Filipinos had already fully understood the sanctity of human life, the dignity of human life…”

“These have already been well established in the minds of Filipinos and this was precisely at the core of our struggle for independence and our right of self-determination. So it is in this context that I am asking our American friends and our American leaders to look at our aspirations. We cannot forever be the little brown brothers of America.”

A rocky relationship

The comments come at a strained time for US-Philippine relations. The US has expressed concerns about human rights violations following President Rodrigo Duterte’s bloody crackdown on the drugs trade.

Last week, President Obama canceled a meeting with Duterte after the Philippine leader unleashed an angry tirade, during which he called him a “son of a bitch.”

“Who does he think he is? I am no American puppet. I am the president of a sovereign country and I am not answerable to anyone except the Filipino people,” Duterte said.

The comment came after Obama suggested he’d raise the issue of human rights with Duterte during the ASEAN summit in Laos.

Duterte later said he regretted the statement, and claimed that it was directed as a journalist, not Obama.

philippine president manny pacquiao intv_00000000.jpg
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Extrajudicial killings and hit squads

Yasay’s comments come a day after an explosive hearing in the Philippine senate.

One witness testified that he was part of a hit squad run by Duterte when Duterte was mayor of Davao City.

He claimed that Duterte himself gunned down a member of the Department of Justice with a submachine gun. Duterte’s office denied the claims.

Former Filipino militiaman Edgar Matobato answers questions as he testifies before the Philippine Senate in Pasay, south of Manila, Philippines on Thursday Sept. 15, 2016. Matobato said that Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte, when he was still a city mayor, ordered him and other members of a squad to kill criminals and opponents in gangland-style assaults that left about 1,000 dead. (AP Photo/Aaron Favila)
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CNN’s Andreena Narayan and Kevin Liptak and journalist Charie Villa contributed to this report