Rex Tillerson, left, Rodrigo Duterte on Monday. Bullit Marquez / AP

Firebrand Philippine leader Rodrigo Duterte said he was Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s “humble friend” Monday as the two met to discuss the Asian nation’s struggle to contain ISIS-linked fighters, among other regional issues.

“I am your humble friend in Southeast Asia,” Duterte said in a marked change from the crass criticism the strongman leader offered former President Barack Obama, and the U.S. in general.

The U.S. is helping the Philippines battle militants for control in parts of the southern Philippines island of Mindanao.

Tillerson said the U.S. has been providing the Philippines with surveillance capabilities, training, information and aircraft to help it fight the militants. He said the equipment includes a few Cessna aircraft and a few drones.

The aircraft are part of the more than $300 million in military aid granted to the Philippines in the last five years.

“We are providing [the Philippines] some training and some guidance in terms of how to deal with an enemy that fights in ways that is not like most people have ever had to deal with so it’s a tragic situation down there,” Tillerson said at the ASEAN forum in Manila.

Nearly 700 people have died in intense fighting since black flag waving gunmen stormed buildings and homes in the business district and outlying communities of the city of Marawi, a center of Islamic faith in the southern third of the predominantly Roman Catholic nation.

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SOURCE: NBC News, Abigail Williams and Eoghan Macguire

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