Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte gestures as he delivers speech before members of the Scout Rangers regiment at a military training camp in San Miguel town, Bulacan province, north of Manila on September 15, 2016. 
Rodrigo Duterte shot dead a justice department employee and ordered the murder of opponents, a former death squad member told parliament September 15, in explosive allegations against the Philippine president. / AFP / TED ALJIBE        (Photo credit should read TED ALJIBE/AFP/Getty Images)
PHOTO: TED ALJIBE/AFP/Getty Images
Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte gestures as he delivers speech before members of the Scout Rangers regiment at a military training camp in San Miguel town, Bulacan province, north of Manila on September 15, 2016. Rodrigo Duterte shot dead a justice department employee and ordered the murder of opponents, a former death squad member told parliament September 15, in explosive allegations against the Philippine president. / AFP / TED ALJIBE (Photo credit should read TED ALJIBE/AFP/Getty Images)
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Duterte warned he may impose martial law and suspend elections for tens of thousands of local posts, fuelling concerns about democracy under his rule. Duterte said he was considering both measures as part of his controversial campaign to eradicate illegal drugs in society, and that martial law would also solve a range of other security threats. / AFP PHOTO / NOEL CELIS        (Photo credit should read NOEL CELIS/AFP/Getty Images)
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Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte gestures as he answers questions from the press at Manila International Airport on March 23, 2017. Duterte warned he may impose martial law and suspend elections for tens of thousands of local posts, fuelling concerns about democracy under his rule. Duterte said he was considering both measures as part of his controversial campaign to eradicate illegal drugs in society, and that martial law would also solve a range of other security threats. / AFP PHOTO / NOEL CELIS (Photo credit should read NOEL CELIS/AFP/Getty Images)
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Philippine President-elect Rodrigo Duterte speaks during his first press conference since he claimed victory in the presidential election, at a restaurant in Davao City, on the southern island of Mindanao on May 15, 2016.
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Philippine President-elect Rodrigo Duterte speaks during his first press conference since he claimed victory in the presidential election, at a restaurant in Davao City, on the southern island of Mindanao on May 15, 2016. Duterte vowed on May 15 to reintroduce capital punishment and give security forces "shoot-to-kill" orders in a devastating war on crime. / AFP / TED ALJIBE (Photo credit should read TED ALJIBE/AFP/Getty Images)
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Philippine President-elect Rodrigo Duterte speaks during his first press conference since he claimed victory in the presidential election, at a restaurant in Davao City, on the southern island of Mindanao on May 15, 2016. Duterte vowed on May 15 to reintroduce capital punishment and give security forces "shoot-to-kill" orders in a devastating war on crime. / AFP / TED ALJIBE (Photo credit should read TED ALJIBE/AFP/Getty Images)
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BEIJING, CHINA - OCTOBER 20: President of the Philippines Rodrigo Duterte and Chinese President Xi Jinping review the honor guard as they attend a welcoming ceremony at the Great Hall of the People on October 20, 2016 in Beijing, China. Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte is on a four-day state visit to China, his first since taking power in late June, with the aim of improving bilateral relations.  (Photo by Thomas Peter-Pool/Getty Images)
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BEIJING, CHINA - OCTOBER 20: President of the Philippines Rodrigo Duterte and Chinese President Xi Jinping review the honor guard as they attend a welcoming ceremony at the Great Hall of the People on October 20, 2016 in Beijing, China. Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte is on a four-day state visit to China, his first since taking power in late June, with the aim of improving bilateral relations. (Photo by Thomas Peter-Pool/Getty Images)
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Philippine President-elect Rodrigo Duterte speaks during his first press conference since he claimed victory in the presidential election, at a restaurant in Davao City, on the southern island of Mindanao on May 15, 2016.
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Philippine President-elect Rodrigo Duterte speaks during his first press conference since he claimed victory in the presidential election, at a restaurant in Davao City, on the southern island of Mindanao on May 15, 2016. Duterte vowed on May 15 to reintroduce capital punishment and give security forces "shoot-to-kill" orders in a devastating war on crime. / AFP / TED ALJIBE (Photo credit should read TED ALJIBE/AFP/Getty Images)
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Front-running presidential candidate Mayor Rodrigo Duterte gestures during his second news conference after voting in a polling precinct at Daniel R. Aguinaldo National High School, Matina district, his hometown in Davao city in southern Philippines Monday, May 9, 2016. Duterte was leading by a wide margin in unofficial tallies but still refuses to claim victory. (AP Photo/Bullit Marquez)
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Front-running presidential candidate Mayor Rodrigo Duterte gestures during his second news conference after voting in a polling precinct at Daniel R. Aguinaldo National High School, Matina district, his hometown in Davao city in southern Philippines Monday, May 9, 2016. Duterte was leading by a wide margin in unofficial tallies but still refuses to claim victory. (AP Photo/Bullit Marquez)
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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.

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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.

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CNN’s Andreena Narayan and Kevin Liptak and journalist Charie Villa contributed to this report