MANILA - It was a question that lingered in Timothy Villalba's mind for almost a decade.
Could it be true that the overseas sponsor he only knew as "George Walker" had been president of the United States of America?
The 25-year-old finally found out for sure after friends began tagging him in social media this month over a story about a Filipino child named Timothy who was supported for 10 years by the late George H.W. Bush.
Now married with a 3-year-old daughter, Villalba recalls handwritten letters from Bush and occasional gifts that spurred his creative interest and helped him in school.
He said he has nothing but gratitude.
"Out of so many kids he could have helped, I was the one picked," Villalba told ABS-CBN News in Filipino.
"It was shocking that he was indeed a president. I can't explain how I'm feeling."
Bush, who passed away on Dec. 1, supported Villalba through Christian charity Compassion International, whose network of local church-based ministries included the Lifestream Ministries of the Capitol City Foursquare Church in Quezon City.
Villalba said his grandmother once worked at the ministry, where she entered him, his sister, and cousins into the sponsorship program.
He was 7 years old then.
Studying at a public school and with his mother earning money by doing neighbor's laundry, Villalba said the support he got from the program helped ease their family's burden.
Sponsored children received clothes and school supplies paid for using money sent by their sponsors.
They were also bought food during Christmas and their birthdays.
The children also became pen pals with their sponsors.
Bush was already Villalba's second sponsor.
He said his family already lost Bush's letters, but he does remember the letters came frequently.
"I am an old man, 77 years old, but I love kids; and though we have not met, I love you already," read Bush's first letter to Villalba in January 2002.
For security reasons, Bush could not reveal too much of himself, but snuck references to his work and identity in his letters.
Villalba recalled getting a card saying it was from the White House and a picture of a dog, who "George Walker" said had met many famous people.
He loved that the letters were handwritten by his sponsor.
"I was a kid, so I didn't understand the letters then," Villalba said.
"I loved that his letters were handwritten and happy that he was helping me."
Villalba's most unforgettable gift from Bush was a set of pencils, pens, water color, and pastel.
He also got a spring-bound sketch pad to draw on.
"I mentioned to him that I loved drawing," Villalba said.
"I loved the set because it was big. I showed it off at school."
He also remembers getting a calculator for grade school work.
Timothy has stopped drawing but has focused his creativity on music, the beginnings of which he had mentioned in his letters to Bush.
He still plays the guitar, as well as the bass guitar and drums, and was part of a rock band.
Today, he performs with a singer in nightly acoustic gigs after he logs off from his job as a barangay secretary in his home village of Escopa 4.
Before his current job at the village, he had worked as a waiter and supermarket merchandiser and managed a small eatery, having finished a vocational course in cookery.
He said performing music has been an additional source of income for him since he was 18.
Villalba would not believe it when his sponsor's identity was revealed to him as a graduating high school student in 2010.
A couple, Larry and Angie Lathrop, who Villalba said took over from Bush as his sponsors, visited him at school.
They took him out to the Manila Ocean Park, where he said he was shocked by the revelation.
Angie Lathrop was the executive assistant of Wess Stafford, a former president of Compassion International.
"'Do you remember George Walker?' he recalled them asking.""Would you believe that he was President Bush?'"
Villalba thought it was a joke.
"It was hard to believe that was a president. I didn't think anymore of it after, since maybe it wasn't true," he said.
With a ton of social media messages and requests for media interviews years later, Villalba knows the truth now and considers himself blessed.
"I'm really lucky since that was a president," he said.
He extended his thanks to Bush's family.
"I hope they continue to help more people, not just me, even if they don't reveal themselves, just like he did."
Villalba hopes his story would inspire people with the means to sponsor children.
"That's where change begins in a child with potential that they would be successful in the future," he said.
His status in life may be modest, but Villalba considers himself to have reached success.
"I've been married for two years. I have a daughter. I have a job," he said. "For me, I'm successful and happy."
His only regret for his secret penpal from the White House is this: "I wish I had a chance to meet him while he was still alive."